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Sara L. Uckelman

My husband and I transferred from a US to an overseas programme when we were 4 and 3 years in (respectively). We left because a series of events resulted in us no longer having an advisor or any prospect of an advisor, and we took the opportunity to take a gamble -- one that has paid off tremendously.

We basically started over in our new programme, our previous years not being relevant other than for what they taught us, since non-US PhDs rarely have any coursework. In the end, both of us pretty radically changed our dissertation topics, and I am grateful for having had the full four years in the programme I switched to.

PhD Student

Thank you, Sara, for sharing your experience! I think many students have the intention of doing their PhD overseas. But I have heard many times that obtaining funding in overseas programs is very difficult. I wonder if that is true?


Dear PhD Student,
In some European countries, PhD students are supported by external funding that faculty members have secured for very specific research projects. So if I get a huge grant for a project on X, then I can only support a PhD student who is contributing to that project (and the support for such a student has to be written into the grant). That is why funding is tricky in many European countries.
But in some countries, like Canada, students can get federal grants/awards for graduate study overseas (SSHRCs). But most often a student who gets such a grant will aim to go to an elite USA or UK school (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE in the UK; and U. Chicago, MIT, or higher in the USA).


I transferred several years into my PhD, because my advisor left without taking any of her advisees with her. She was the only professor that worked in my area, and I was too far in to switch (I was already developing dissertation proposals).

I ended up transferring to a better program that I liked much more. I was only required to "make up" a year's worth of coursework, which is comparatively light, from what I understand (I've had friends that transferred and had to start from scratch). I noticed immediate changes for the better in my philosophical work. I think that this was mostly due to the mere change of philosophical environment--such changes are often very stimulating. For me, this was partly because I got to start clean: I had made immature mistakes early on in my first program that, at least in my mind, tainted others' evaluations of me. Moving to a new program allowed me to take everything I had learned and turn over a new leaf.

I was given full funding--6 years' worth--at the new institution, but had no interest in using it all. I wasn't fixing to spend 6 more years in grad school, when my dissertation was already almost half-finished. Because of this (artificially) shortened schedule, I was at a disadvantage in terms of getting to know (and impress) the professors that would ultimately write me letters of recommendation. But since I knew this going in, I just hit the ground running: I made a list of the professors I could work with before I ever got on campus. Then I scheduled as many meetings as politeness allowed during my first year, and I took every seminar from the professors on that list, regardless of whether I cared about it. (My list was also long, so that I could afford to decide not to work with someone if I ended up just not clicking with them.)

Overall it was a great thing for me. I just can't think of any respect in which I suffered--especially since I got to move to a part of the country I like much more, and my wife and I ended up much closer to our families. It even balanced out, time-wise: I did have to add a year of coursework, but I ended up working much faster at my new school, just because of the stimulation of the new environment. I ended up only spending 6 years total in my PhD.

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