Getting a PhD, Moving to Another Country, Study Abroad

Quitting your Full-Time job to move abroad and get a PhD

Have you been working at the same job for over 5 years? Do you love to travel? Are you thinking of going for a PhD? Then this post is for you!

UK Degree Diploma
Quitting a FT job for a PhD means giving up a steady paycheck for another coveted piece of paper

Maybe you have a comfy full-time job in a bustling city, work with great people, some of whom you even count among your closest friends, and can go home after 5 pm without having to think about work until the next day.  Yet, you feel like there’s something missing in your life, and that something is a sense of fulfillment. You enjoy your job – you might even love it! – but for some reason, all of a sudden it’s not enough.

To quell this feeling, you travel more and more, gradually visiting countries further from your home.  But when you return, you experience travel withdrawal, and extending future trips from one week to two doesn’t seem to help.

Rome Airport Sign
Getting a sign while in Rome that traveling might be a “way out” of my work doldrums

Perhaps you’re someone who enjoys learning and being around others who love to learn. You wonder if your listlessness could be appeased by taking classes and learning new skills, such as playing a musical instrument, baking, painting, running, or learning a new language. However, that too doesn’t seem to be the solution.

You also realize that your aspiration to get a PhD, the one that’s been at the back of your mind since your Masters degree, and the one that you’ve kept pushing aside as you make excuses like “it’s not the best time” or “I don’t have enough money saved to just quit my job”, has been growing increasingly stronger as the days go by.

I completely understand.

I started working right after completing my Masters program, first at a non-profit for 2 years, then at a university for 6 more years. One of my goals was to continue on for a PhD, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. Plus, I had a comfortable life in Boston, and I  really enjoyed my job and the people I worked with. So why would I leave? I considered universities in Boston, but I couldn’t find a PhD program that had exactly what I was looking for. I also thought about studying in the UK through online/long distance PhD programs, but that would defeat the purpose of studying abroad. It was only when I finally found a PhD program that matched my interests (which just so happened to be abroad!) that I realized it was time to quit and work towards a new goal.

A few major factors went into my decision to quit my job and study abroad; one was that it was an excellent excuse to live in a new country; and two, I needed to be in an environment that was more challenging, yet also gave me some freedom to decide what work I thought was important and make my own work hours. There’s just something invigorating (and addicting!) about exploring a new country, assimilating to its culture, eating delicious food, and feeling like each day brings about something different. Add to that the opportunity to learn and attain a PhD, and moving abroad to be a PhD student starts to become quite appealing!

In this economy, quitting a good job is definitely a difficult decision to make. It takes a lot of planning, preparation, and patience to feel confident that you’ve made the right decision.  Since this is something that I’ve recently been through, I thought it would be helpful to highlight a few considerations for finding the right program and preparing to live abroad.

Essential tasks to consider:

  • Start by researching universities that offer the programs related to the subject you want to study, their reputations, tuition fees, research projects, and faculty who might potentially be your supervisors.

    I was interested in computers and art, so a broad range of interdisciplinary programs fell under these topics, which made finding a specific program difficult to identify.  By researching different programs both abroad and in the U.S., I found out different ways universities call similar subjects, and it made searching for my eventual program much easier.


  • It might also be helpful to use Google Maps to get an idea of what the campus and city look like – if by looking at the map, you can tell immediately that you don’t like the campus or the neighborhood, then you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and money and can instead focus on the right university for you!

    This is exactly what I did for one of the programs that accepted me in Scotland! I looked up the campus and the city on Google Maps and found that it seemed isolated and dreary; thus, it saved me time and money from not only attending that university, but also from visiting the school in person to check it out before accepting the offer. It’s true that sometimes a place is quite different in person, but I just got a feeling that this wasn’t the place for me.



  • Gradually go through your stuff and get rid of the items you really don’t need or forgot even existed, which means you didn’t really need it! Whether you live in a house or an apartment, you most likely have accumulated lots of possessions over the years.  As a student studying abroad, you’ll have to decide what you most definitely can’t live without over the next 4 or 5 years. We recommend only taking 2 suitcases when you first fly over to your new home. Of course, as you visit home for the holidays and other events, you can simply bring back what you don’t need and take new things back. Moving abroad is a good motivation factor to progressively go through all your belongings and weed out clothes that no longer fit or are outdated, books that you’ve already read and no longer need, and anything else that has seen better days.  Again, starting early, at least a year in advance, is key.

I confess, getting rid of stuff was tough for me. I knew that if I moved abroad for a PhD, I would have to move out of my apartment, and I had acquired a lot of stuff over 6 years since moving to Boston for my job. I like to collect things, and at that point in time, I was obsessed with collecting teapots, teacups, cake stands – basically anything that would make a lovely afternoon tea party – definitely not something that travels well!   (Sidenote: I think it’s no surprise that I ended up going to school in England, known for its tea culture!)

In preparing for my eventual move overseas, I had to be ruthless with my possessions, and I ended up giving some of these beautiful ceramic dishes and cups as gifts to friends and family. I learned a valuable lesson about not being too attached to things and saving money, so at least collecting the teapots/teacups wasn’t in vain.

Beautiful teapots & teacups for sale at an outdoor market in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Take the opportunity to really study what you love as a PhD student! If, like me, you obtained your Masters degree several years ago, then you might feel like you’re out of the loop in recent trends in your topic, especially if you focused on computers and technology.

Since I studied Computer Science for both my Bachelors and Masters degrees, I didn’t want to continue the same subject as a PhD student. Instead, I really wanted to combine computers and my love of the arts. Maybe it was just the right timing, but when I started looking for subjects that combined these two, I was able to learn about fairly recent programs in Digital Arts and Digital Media, and found that this was exactly what I was looking for. I  realized that sometimes you just have to patient when looking for the right PhD program, because it might not exist yet!

I hope this post was helpful in providing some insight into quitting a steady full-time job to study abroad. Are you thinking about moving abroad for a PhD and quitting your job?  Or are you going to study through an online program? Let me know your experiences in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Quitting your Full-Time job to move abroad and get a PhD”

  1. My feeling on getting a Ph.D is that it’s not always worth it due to the job market although sure, it’s nice to move abroad to get a Ph.D. Often, having a Masters with work experience is good enough and getting a Ph.D doesn’t necessarily give you an edge in the non-academic market, which was my preference even as a Ph.D student. A lot of jobs in my field now ask for a Masters + work experience or Ph.D where they explicitly write they prefer the work experience. Admittedly, getting a Phd and becoming a specialist in your field is a great way to live abroad more long term,which is how my boyfriend was able to relocate us to Europe. However, the academic market is tough and it’s good to think about what happens after the Ph.D as some fields are very difficult to get tenure-track in.

    Something that was left out of this that is very important is the ranking of the Ph.D program in its field. Sure, you can pick one in a location you like, but if the program isn’t taken seriously by others, it will make finding a job afterwards very hard and if it’s EU, you can’t stay in the EU afterwards without being sponsored.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful reply! I definitely agree on your points, I think so far, it’s been tougher for me to find/get a job with a PhD than with a Masters in the non-academic world, which I always preferred as well, and this preference was solidified after going through the PhD process.

      I also wholeheartedly agree that the ranking and quality of the PhD program are essential, especially if the university is overseas and less likely to be known in the US, if that’s where the job search will be. I guess I didn’t mention these important considerations because it’s something that I automatically thought about when searching for schools and programs as it’s also how I searched for my B.S. and M.S. degrees. This will make a nice follow-up post 🙂 Thanks again for your comment, I really appreciate it!