From Pandemic To PhD: A Journey Of Enriching Lessons In The U.K.

From Pandemic To PhD: A Journey Of Enriching Lessons In The U.K.

The author is pursuing PhD in semiconductor physics from University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Deepika YadavUpdated: Monday, May 20, 2024, 12:52 PM IST
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Deepika Yadav |

My transition journey from India to the UK began in 2020. Yes, 2020. I came during the Covid-19 pandemic, which added an extra layer of complexity. I had to fight hard for my scholarship, and it was a shocking time for me. However, the actual journey was okay because the flight was almost empty, making it quite comfortable. When I landed, the lift wasn't working, but my landlord was very supportive and booked a taxi for me. In terms of the flight and my landlord, everything was nice. My landlord was really good, which was a relief given all the Facebook scamming stories. I was the first person to move into our flat on December 5th, with my flatmates arriving one by one over the next few months.

Moving away from my parents and travelling abroad for the first time was a significant change. None of my family had travelled abroad before, so it was a new experience for all of us. Surprisingly, I wasn't scared; instead, I felt relieved that it was an English-speaking country. Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, my landlord helped me with groceries, making the overall experience very positive.

Cultural shock was inevitable. At university, the frequent greetings were new to me. Every Friday, people would say, "Happy weekend," and on Mondays, they would ask, "How was your weekend?" Another significant cultural shock was seeing my professor babysit. My master’s supervisor, who had a baby, would bring the child to meetings and even to the university. This was a good thing, as it showed a different work-life balance.

The drinking culture was another surprise. People here are very open about drinking, and it’s not considered a bad thing. Calling professors by their first names was also a huge cultural shock. In India, I was used to addressing them with titles like "sir" or "ma’am," but here, using first names is the norm. Summers were another adjustment; people like to lie down in the sun, which was initially weird for me but now feels completely normal.

None of these cultural shocks were negative. They were just new experiences. However, living with my Indian flatmates presented challenges. We had two male flatmates, one who had graduated from the US and another from a different place. They were not used to cleaning shared spaces, which caused issues.

Inspiration behind choosing UK

I left FitJEE and teaching because I wanted to become a scientist. I aimed to pursue a PhD, but my three-year gap made it difficult to get responses from the emails I sent to Germany. I was also preparing for PhDs in India when a friend suggested applying for a Commonwealth scholarship for a master’s in the UK. This could make it easier to get a PhD in the UK, taking a total of 4.5 to 5 years, similar to doing a PhD in India.

I applied for a master’s at Imperial College London because there was no tuition fee, and I received the scholarship. This was crucial, as I didn’t have the 40–50 lakh rupees needed for tuition. The master’s programme at Imperial was mostly online due to COVID-19, which made it less engaging. However, I completed my master’s and secured a PhD position in Edinburgh. The initial months were tough, especially because Edinburgh is quieter and I was going through personal issues as well.

In Edinburgh, I enjoy the fruits, although I miss specific ones like mangoes. The weather is another aspect I appreciate, despite the frequent rain, as I don't mind it much. I love the multicultural environment and have friends from Romania, Italy, Abu Dhabi, Greece, and Cyprus, which enriches my experience with diverse cultures and shared ethical values. Edinburgh is a beautiful city with friendly people and a vibrant party scene.

When I first came to London, I faced difficulties regarding food, especially as a vegetarian. Most of the food options were not suitable, and I often had to settle for mashed potatoes or fries. Discovering Middle Eastern cuisine was a game-changer, adding variety to my diet. Accommodation in London was not a big issue, but finding a flat in Edinburgh was challenging due to the housing crisis. It took me seven months to find a suitable place, making it a stressful experience.

In terms of safety, the UK scores high. The connectivity and public transport are excellent, making it easy to get around.

Education System in the UK

Regarding the education system, I completed a master's in research at Imperial, with three months of coursework and the rest dedicated to research. The coursework was manageable, and exams were conducted online. A positive aspect was the open access to faculty for questions, something I missed in India. If I decide to pursue a master's degree, I would prefer to do it in India. However, if I choose to pursue a PhD, I would prefer to do it abroad. In India, the education system for PhDs can be quite pressurising. Supervisors tend to be very demanding and expect students to be available at all times. They often treat students like personal assistants. On the other hand, pursuing a PhD abroad would provide a more relaxed and supportive environment with supervisors who are understanding and respectful.

Highlights of my journey

I arrived in the UK in 2020 for my master's, which took ten months. Due to my Commonwealth scholarship, I couldn't take a job, so I returned to India after completing my degree. I secured a PhD before leaving and spent eight months in India waiting for visa processing. Initially, adjusting to Edinburgh was challenging due to its quiet nature and a personal breakup, but over time, I adapted. The early phase was tough as my lab was setting up after relocating from Southampton.

Living abroad, especially as a PhD student, can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety, particularly without close friends or family. Making friends takes time, but I've been fortunate to have supportive lab mates and flatmates. Health-wise, I've faced some struggles, but these are personal issues, not related to the country or university. My main challenge was securing the Commonwealth scholarship, which involved significant effort and dealing with some harsh remarks from others.

Living in the UK has taught me to be independent. I learned to live alone, cook, and respect others' boundaries. I have grown a lot personally, and moving to the UK has been a significant positive change in my life. I never planned this journey, but it has turned out to be a great decision. I meet people from different cultures and learn from their experiences, enriching my own life.

One negative aspect I have noticed is that some Indian students come to the UK for a master’s degree just to get a job. They often engage in part-time jobs and pay others to write their theses. And I'm actually completely against that. So that is the only aspect I don't like about Indian students here.

Dealing with homesickness has been part of the journey. I keep myself busy with work, social activities, painting, and dancing. These activities help me stay positive and engaged, reducing feelings of homesickness.

Managing living costs on a middle-class background is feasible with the stipends provided for both my master's and PhD. I can save enough to be independent, support myself for several months without income, and even assist my family financially. Being older, at 30, has also influenced my financial independence and stability.

The author is pursuing PhD in semiconductor physics from University of Edinburgh, Scotland 

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