Laptop on table on roof garden with blue skies

How travel is helping me finish my PhD

No question, travel is awesome. Even though I’ve been a poor grad student with lots of deadlines, I’ve managed to travel during PhD things and wouldn’t want it any other way!

These are the last few months of my PhD before I have to hand in, and travel is helping me get there. How? Let me explain.

Any excuse to travel

While I’ve been lucky to have a major move between Singapore and London built into my PhD program, I’ve also taken opportunities to go to regional conferences while based in both places. When I didn’t have a PhD related reason to travel, I would try to go home to New York. Having a young nephew and niece, this was important for me so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing everything.

I’ve used up any excuse to travel: family, conferences, writing retreats, ultimate tournaments, etc. These were spread out over the past three and half years, so it doesn’t feel like I’m always trying to “escape” from my PhD. But by doing this, I’ve been able to get out and break up the monotony.

Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan, your typical touristy beach, white males included

Bottle Beach near Koh Phangan

How travel is helping my PhD

Flying off to another continent is a pretty hard deadline for life things like moving, and I’m using them as hard deadlines for my PhD too.

Last month, I had debated whether I should take 10 days in September to go home to New York to see my family. I spoke to a fellow student and she advised that I think about it more since it was so near my PhD deadline. I did, and I decided to do it. Leading up to the trip, I worked really hard to send some things off to my advisors. On the trip, I got some work done, but not as much as I had hoped.

Historically, I haven’t worked very well with deadlines until recently. My hand in date in January is a very real deadline, so I can’t “muck about,” as the Brits say. Although we’ll have to see how long my streak of productivity goes for, it’s been pretty good the past 2 weeks since I got back from New York.

T minus 3 months

There’s about 3 months left before hand in, and I have a few major trips planned.

Early November – Vienna
I need to finish analysis for all of my last few chapters by the time I leave for Vienna. I’m presenting a poster there and participating in a hackathon on climate change and infectious diseases. The chapter I’m presenting on is currently a little less than half-baked, so this is a big motivator to get more done and quickly.

November 22 (Thanksgiving!) – New York
I’m leaving my place in London and I’m moving all of my stuff to New York. I desperately want to have a full draft of my whole thesis done by the time I leave. This will let me relax for Thanksgiving and prep for my next conference in early December. Plus, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I had to miss it last year!

December – Melbourne
The first week in December will be dedicated to attending a conference in Melbourne. I haven’t been to that part of Australia before. Most of this month will be spent in Melbourne, Sydney and other random parts! I haven’t made many plans yet, but would like to do some outdoorsy things while also making some last changes to my thesis. Is this realistic? I have no idea. I’ll let you know after…

Drawing of pandas in an office

He say me have to work, work, work, work, work, work…


This works for me, though there is no guarantee that it’ll work for anyone else. For me the major advantages to travel during PhD stuff are:

  • having something to look forward to
  • taking a step away from my normal working environment for perspective and refreshing the creative juices
  • inspiration (because nature and other people’s research)
  • breaking up time into manageable chunks
  • similarly, having milestones to distinguish the passage of time

To travel during PhD stuff might not be for everyone, but I find that it is well worth it. Some people might prefer to be in the same place for the duration, but I found that having one big move in the middle of the PhD was just enough change to re-energize and get a feeling for how much time has passed. (This is kinda important if you are doing a PhD, because you don’t want to waste too much time.)

Life after defense

Like I mentioned in my post on leaving London, I currently don’t have many plans after January 2017. I’ve applied for a few jobs, but ideally I’ll be somewhere where I can play on a good women’s ultimate team. After that, I’m sure things will work out somehow.

How do you travel during PhD research and writing? Do you think I’m shooting myself in the foot?

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Travel during PhD

  • Hi Chewy,

    Just stumbled upon your blog and it’s refreshing to read something a bit different from the usual travel blog stuff!! One of the reasons why I did my PhD where I did was so that I could travel so I can totally relate to what you’re saying! 🙂

    What’s your PhD on?

    Looking forward to exploring more of your blog!!

    Greetings from Australia!

    • Hey Kati!

      Thanks for reading! It’s cool to hear from you!

      I did mine on modeling of infectious disease ecology. What about you?

      You have a nice blog! By the way, I was in Australia recently and want to return so much!! There is so much to do and see!!

      • I had a feeling it was something science-y, don’t know why!?! 😀

        I did mine in linguistics on language change in a language contact situation (ie. what happens to a language when it is transported to another country and spoken there for 5-6 generations). I ended up in South Africa doing fieldwork for a number of months. Didn’t end up seeing as much of South Africa as I would have liked (in hindsight), I think I was too scared and intimated by the crime rates at the time (this was back in 2005 and 2006).

        I saw on your instagram that you went to Brisbane!! Cool! 🙂 I’m on the Sunshine Coast, which is just some 100 km north of Brisbane.

        Yes, there’s tons to see here – I still have so much to explore in this massive country… Where did you go? I should probably just dig around on your blog and find out… 😉

        • That sounds super interesting! I had a sad thought recently while I was traveling regarding language. At home, we speak the Shanghai dialect of Chinese because both my parents immigrated from there. When I travel, I always hear Shanghainese from some of the Chinese travelers. The newer generations are refusing to speak the dialect, though, so I was feeling sad that in 20 or 30 years, I wouldn’t hear it randomly when I’m traveling!

          I think I would be scared to travel in South Africa too, at least if it would be solo.

          I liked Brisbane! I hope to make it back to Australia at some point! Maybe next summer? I was mostly in the southeast (Melbourne, Sydney), but also spent about 12 days in Kangaroo Island and Adelaide in South Australia!

          How much longer will you be there?

          • Hi Chewy,

            Yes, it’s sad when languages or dialects are no longer used but that’s the reality. So many languages have died out over the years and very, very few can be “revived”. Why are the younger people refusing speak the Shanghainese dialect? Do they think it’s old-fashioned? Often there are multiple reasons why the younger generation is reluctant to use a dialect. It’s usually fascinating to dig a bit deeper but often also very sad because to many speakers it feels like they’re losing part of their culture or identity. I completely understand why this would make you sad.

            We’ve been up on the Sunshine Coast for three years now, before that we lived in Melbourne so I’ve been loving your photos from Melbourne on Instagram!! 🙂

            We’ll probably still be here a while, we haven’t explored all that much of Queensland yet. It’s such a big state…

          • Kids in Shanghai learn Shanghainese from their family at home if it is spoken by the adults, but when they start going to school they start learning Mandarin and that is the only dialect spoken. They then switch to Mandarin at home and stop speaking Shanghainese at home. I think there is some reluctance because it is a little old-fashioned. Most business can be conducted in Mandarin, and only the older generations continue to speak Shanghainese more regularly (to each other, in the local shops, etc.).

            I love Melbourne! I will have to visit the Sunshine Coast a little more next time 🙂 Loving your photos too!!

          • Yes, that’s what often happens, unfortunately.

            Yes, you need to come up to the Sunshine Coast next time, it’s a very relaxed place and there’s lots of gluten-free foods so you’ll be able to easily find some food you can safely eat!! 🙂