I have been receiving a lot of graduate student applications from keenly interested, dedicated students outside of my country, Canada. It has not been that long ago, when I was an international student myself, with a student visa in a country where I knew no one else other than my lab´s members. It is also vividly in my mind, how I envied all other students around me who had a status different from being on a “student visa”. They were free to do anything in their lives and they could decide about the future without ever considering the thought that “I need to figure out a way to establish myself in this country for real or go back home when I am done with graduate studies”.
Well, sometimes this is a rhetorical question. Often there are no programs allowing for a different visa status to students after their studies have terminated. Unless there is a magic job offer that happens and satisfies all current immigration preferences, there is no other way to change the status, to secure a “more established” life. Then there is only the other option that becomes the path of least resistance and “the most likely to happen to me” option - unless the immigration laws change by the time one graduates, or I wins the lottery. OK, move on!
Imagine a 20-some year old student, starting an MSc or a PhD, just beginning to understand the world of opportunities within “research, academia and neurosciences” and just beginning to be worried about what to do in life “for real”. Imagine, how could this person decide about the question: “Should I establish myself here or 3000+ miles over there?”
When I was at this point in my life myself, things could have not been murkier than they were in all aspects of my life. And yes, I did want someone to tell me what I should do. There was, of course, no one knowing the answers. But there were at least people to talk to about my options. This is what makes me today, to be one of those supervisors who want to talk about options upfront, especially with international applicants.
I encourage all of the incoming students to consider the MSc program as a start. If their performance and motivation aligns after the first year into the program, they can make the decision to transfer into the PhD program (at least at my institution). But if they wish to obtain a more secure status in their new country – prior to pursuing PhD studies - they can do so after the 2 years of the MSc program and then a shot at gaining work experience. This, however, overall, resulted in me offering a lot of opportunities to international students at the Master’s level but not transitioning many of them onto higher levels of graduate training and I feel as if I am being less encouraging to my students in terms of the PhD training.
How do other supervisors think about this dilemma?