31st July 2023.
Today marks two anniversaries for me: On this day in 2017, after 30 years of full-time employment at five different universities, I decided to set up independently as a PhD career consultant. Then, one year later, on 31st July 2018, after living in the UK for the whole of my adult life, I moved with my partner to Germany and have been here for five years.
Looking back now after 5 – 6 years, I feel very positive about the changes I’ve made. But change is never easy, even if you’re excited about the prospect and are very motivated to move. Working independently and living in another country were two very big firsts for me and they weren’t without their challenges.
For example, I panicked a bit when I first set up my business, thinking I might not get enough work to support myself. So, in the first few months, I never said “No” to any opportunities, with the consequence that I overloaded myself with too many jobs, to the point where I almost had a breakdown!
When we first moved to Germany, I thought it was so exciting and different. The people were really friendly, the countryside was there to be explored and the festivals were in full swing. However, after a short time, I started to feel depressed and disconnected from my family and friends. I knew I needed to sell my car and house in the UK, which made me feel even more that I was losing my ‘anchor’. Despite the support and encouragement of my partner, I had a bit of a meltdown and was seriously contemplating moving back.
I never did act on those impulses and, after a few months, I started to feel more positive about the changes I had made. Developing more confidence in my business and taking a more strategic approach helped me to build my ‘Unternehmen’ (small business) here in Germany, whilst the kindness and friendship of our new-found friends here helped me finally to settle down to the Bavarian way of life.
More than that though, I always kept in mind a very important and enlightening model of change that I use in my PhD career workshops. First proposed in the 1970s, it illustrates the rollercoaster of emotions such as anxiety, depression, elation and denial that people experience during change. After a time (note, no scale shown, so this can happen over a very short or a very long period of time), the model shows how a person starts to come to terms with the change and move forward.
Because science is such a global and international endeavour, it means that ‘academic mobility’ is a necessary part of many researchers’ careers, so that they get to work with the people and facilities that are most relevant to their field of interest. However, moving to a different research group or institution, moving to different countries, or changing careers represent major disruptions to the lives of PhD and postdoctoral researchers.
So, from my own and other’s experiences, I would recommend some of the following advice to increase your resilience regarding change:
- Contact people ahead of moving to find out how they have coped and get advice from them, e.g. research group or university colleagues, alumni and social media;
- Get support – join groups in person and online, e.g. Facebook groups;
- Use the university international office and other institutional administration support;
- Try to learn the local language and immerse yourself in the culture of the region;
- Be open about your concerns and anxieties – it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
After 5 – 6 years, I have plenty of clients (enough, but not too many) and my business has been thriving, even through Covid. I now work with a great partner, Virginie Siret, who provides me with excellent professional digital assistance whenever I deliver my workshops online. On a more personal level, I’ve had lots of great experiences since I moved to Germany – we have a lovely apartment in a small village in Franconia with lots of friendly neighbours. We’ve been to beer and wine festivals galore, experienced the Christmas markets and rather bizarre ‘Fasching’ extravaganzas and have eaten many a bratwurst!
Change is not easy, but it’s inevitable for most of us, especially when you’re a working professional. So, if you’re ever feeling emotional about the prospect of changes in your life, don’t feel embarrassed as it’s a perfectly natural reaction. Consider how best to navigate changes in your life and to keep a positive, if not, philosophical, mindset. Most of all communicate with others!
And on that note, I can very happily tell you that I just received an email whilst writing this blog to say that I have passed my B1 German exam 🙂