From the Fall 2018 Edition of Discovery
In Pursuit of Excellence
Guest Columnist Shabnam Mohammadi PhD’17, Ecology Postdoctoral Research Associate, recounts her international experiences
Photo courtesy Abhilesh Dhawanjewar
The thing I love most about my research is its highly collaborative nature. It lends itself well to the way I pursue my projects – I have one big central question and I explore bits of it from many different angles, constantly chipping away at the answer.
I surveyed frogs in Costa Rica, radio-tracked pit vipers in Thailand and worked with museum collections in Switzerland. During my PhD studies at Utah State, I ran studies in Japan and Germany. Overall, my education and research pursuits have taken me to many different parts of the world and these experiences strongly influenced my general perspectives on life and the way I think about science as a career.
Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto
From the career perspective, working abroad helps to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, methods, and ideas that would otherwise be known only to a few. In 2015, an National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship allowed me to work at Kyoto University in Japan. I found the students and postdocs of my host lab worked with little funding support, and although I was less comfortable without access to many of the resources I was accustomed to in a lab, they possessed a level of creativity and perseverance that allowed them to achieve their research goals – a useful skill when your lab is between grants.
The following year a Dissertation Enhancement Grant from USU took me to the University of Hamburg in Germany, where I experienced research with what I considered to be luxurious resources – far beyond anything I had ever seen at a U.S. university. That luxury, however, comes at the price of fewer opportunities for permanent early-career positions.
As an academic, it was enlightening to experience academia in different countries. It helped me develop an appreciation and satisfaction for the opportunities I have at home, which many of us lose sight of as a result of the challenges associated with our own academic system.
I believe that getting out of one’s comfort zone and experiencing what it’s like to work and live internationally is invaluable. The more one accumulates international experiences, the better. From a personal perspective, such experiences shift your perception of the world from “them” to “us.” When you’re truly immersed in a foreign country, you’re more easily able to find commonalities and you learn to appreciate differences, which together broaden your empathy toward your fellow humans, and that is very good for our world.
Sometimes experiences may be negative, but those can increase your appreciation for what you have at home. The take-home message: Take advantage of the opportunities you find to travel abroad, and use them to experience an immersive work environment in a new and exciting setting.
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