This is a guest post by Soumya Singh https://www.linkedin.com/in/soumyasingh1/, https://twitter.com/singhuist1 , who is a fourth-year undergraduate in Computer Science at Durham University, UK and an incoming software developer at Deutsche Bank, London. Her eclectic interests include languages and badminton, with a new-found curiosity for applied social sciences.
After finishing high school in India, I decided to take a leap of faith and packed my bags to pursue my undergraduate degree in the UK. This was despite having secured a place in some of the most sought-after colleges in my home country. My cousin was an undergraduate in the UK and found himself enjoying every last bit of his experience. Like anything else, this is something that works differently for different people. In my case, it turned out to be the best decision of my life, both professionally and personally.
At eighteen years of age and fresh out of school, studying abroad seemed to offer little more than a fancy embellishment of my academic portfolio: the tag of becoming a world-top-100-university graduate. Having grown up in environs where academic and professional excellence triumphed over everything else, this was an offer I could not refuse. I arrived anticipating a conventional university experience, just with higher league table rankings. It did not take long for the first benefits to unfurl, which were just a prelude to some of the most formative experiences of my life. Studying abroad was an education in itself; here’s what I learned.Friendships are paramount. As a curious person, I was comfortable with combining a first-time move abroad with starting university. Needless to say, it was still an extremely daunting experience. I found it was made easier through having a good social circle. It is common knowledge that the quality of one’s relationships greatly affects the quality of one’s life. Once at Durham, I was lucky to find some great contacts in my accommodation and my class, and through societies, events and even social media. At university, I found people were very open to meeting new friends. Having a set of friends and acquaintances who I could rely on to help navigate my new life at university, and who I could help in return, helped me form lasting bonds that continue to support me today.
Diversify your network to challenge your mindset. Irrespective of whether you are a scientist or not, if you are willing to develop the understanding that struggles are different for people from different parts of the world, if you can realize that someone’s notions may be completely different from yours yet not be wrong, and if you can question your traditional beliefs, you will make more than friendships. Discussions with these friends can be an impetus to make you an effective team player and a level-headed individual. Try and be humble enough to accept that the talk is not to determine who is correct, but what is true. Your work as a student and after university will be both within society and affecting society. As society comprises people, the ability to have profound and sometimes uncomfortable discussions with people to understand the world better may help you go far. The more culturally and professionally diverse your circle is, the more it will also enable you to expand your knowledge about things that matter but cannot be learned through your academic activities alone.
Build a diverse network to keep your career options broad. A social network of this sort will also help you grow your professional network. As a scientist, it is extremely important to not just connect with those who share similar professional interests but also those who study other disciplines. I have friends studying business and entrepreneurship who could connect me to the right opportunities should I wish to venture into entrepreneurship in the future. Befriend an archaeology student and you may have a topic for a much-desired PhD in Virtual Reality. Your friend studying social sciences may help you see the humanitarian facets of your imminent scientific contribution. It shouldn’t be a surprise that your international friends will introduce you into their own international network, thus paving your way to continued mobility. Make friends with people of different ages and at different stages in their careers or academics: they all have a lot to offer, if you are willing to be receptive to their guidance. The friends I made and the attitude I developed through studying in the UK have helped me cruise through my degree and land the job I always wanted.
Beware losing yourself in study and work. It has not all been easy, though. Moving country is a massive emotional and financial investment on its own, and the pressure to excel can fool us into believing our study and jobs form the entirety of our identity. This can set us up to neglect other parts of our existence, something I have been guilty of. I once fell into the trap of the toxic notion that constant hustling and grinding means progress, and felt that indulging in activities not relevant to my desired job was wasted time. I realised well in time that hours of unnecessary effort was setting me up for fatigue, and I cut back before I lost sight of why I was doing what I did. Cultivating a self-care regime — be it through meditation, days off, friends, travel, hobbies or whatever suits you — is crucial for a healthy mind and body. It doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits science: healthy scientists will produce better results.
Learn how to juggle. I believe the time while you are studying is also the right time to develop the ability to multitask and prioritise, since life ahead may well be more demanding and you simply cannot ignore everything. Learning this early will help you to work not only as an individual but also in a team or as an employer yourself one day, when those you employ may look for someone who values work-life balance. If you find it hard to deal with the pressures yourself, do not be shy to seek assistance. Fortunately, we are moving towards a more compassionate world.
Be collegiate. Finally, as a scientist, remember that while some competition may be healthy and even necessary, it is more useful to measure your progress in accordance with your own goals than to compare yourself with others. I’ve found that my progress did not have to come at the loss of others’. Learning collegiality and collaboration early may help as we all strive to be more compassionate scientists.
After four years at university, I can see that I developed real confidence by dealing with so much change and challenge, and being surrounded by the right people catapulted me onto an exciting trajectory that suits me well. Not only do I urge people studying abroad to put themselves out there and make the most of the opportunity — be it a short placement, exchange programme or a degree lasting few years — but I also urge those studying in their home country with access to a diverse pool of people to make friends that have a different background. Understanding a diverse set of experiences and perspectives expands your mind. If you’re moving abroad for your education (or even if not), my tips are, in a nutshell, to:
- Establish a supportive group of friends
- Embrace friends who are different to you and who challenge you to grow
- Build a diverse professional network – in domain, career stage and nationality — that may support you in your future career
- Learn how to multi-task and prioritise in preparation for your first job
- Build your collegiality early so we can all become kind and compassionate scientists
Thanks to LinkedIn, I have managed to connect with other Durham students who’ve secured a job or internship in the same company as me. So our close-knit network is helping us before we move to a new city for the next phase of our lives.