Lucky me. I got myself this friend in Zurich a year ago during the interview. We exchanged a few emails over the past year, but didn't do much more than that. This guy, he works at an institute that seems somewhat interesting for me at the moment. I asked for his advice, explained my situation to him. He suggested at once that we should meet and he would try to help me. How fortunate that the world still has good people around.
My friend, he totally recommended his institute as a good workplace. As our conversation went on, more and more was revealed. The epicenter of our talk was nevertheless about how you survive as a PhD student, an universal topic in academy. I realized, although with some initial shock, how trivial and commonplace it is for people to not complete one's first PhD. To be precise, how trivial it is to change group, if you are doing your PhD outside Sweden. Maybe the word "Sweden" can be swapped for "Scandinavia", but since I haven't involved myself with PhDs from Denmark, Norway and Finland, I cannot say the latter for sure.
So my friend got his master degree a couple of years before we ran into each other. During the time lapse between his master and the good PhD he enjoys so much nowadays, he tried a first PhD somewhere else. It was the first time he told me about this particular experience. I don't want to reveal his identity, so let's just say his first PhD was in an native English-speaking country. My friend doesn't wanna start talk about it, because once he starts he can't stop. The biggest problem of that place, as he told me, was corruption. The corruption came from the higher echelon of the institute. They tried to attract skillful people to their place, give them the resources to expand the area of expertise of the overall institute. Once the establishment phase is over, the institute kick you out, so they can take over your stuff. My friend's old boss from his first PhD got fired eventually, sometime after my friend left the group. For the professor it was not a big deal, he quickly secured another professorship in another country. Doing PhD in that English-speaking country required visa, even for EU-citizens. My friend had to wait for more than six months to get a visa. He left the group six months after entering the country. This practically means that he "lost" one year in the process.
Every scenario like this teaches you something valuable about life. My friend became much more careful after coming back to Europe. He walked carefully among the would-be employers, watching out for signs of misdeeds along the way. During one lab visit in Zurich, he was interested in the scientific methodology of the lab, but one hesitant answer from a seemingly traumatized PhD gave him second thoughts. As it later turned out, his suspicions were right. Nowadays he is enjoying his daily work in the lab that he carefully sifted out among the ones he applied. What about that lab in Zurich, did they find somebody? Yes, my friend said, a girl from his group got an offer, but from what my friend saw happening afterwards, she didn't stay there. He reminded me about some other guys we knew from the interview, let's call them Mr. K and Mr. M. They didn't stay in Zurich either. M was not heard from again. K started PhD somewhere in Germany, but he got into trouble with the guy shortly after he started and was forced to leave. He was on a short visa in Germany, before the visa expired he tried to apply to the same institute as my friend. It didn't work. After that, my friend has not heard from K. The last example he gave me was his postdoc supervisor, who sort of left the research field for good. She also went to two places for PhD, the first didn't work out and she graduated from her second. She was my friend's hands-on supervisor. Before she left the lab she taught him very well, a good supervisor.
The more stories like this I hear, the less I worry about myself, although you would say that my worry is completely unnecessary. The conclusion is, outside of Sweden, it happens that PhD candidates change places in pursuit of finding what they truly want. Turning the statement around, it also implies "in Sweden, it's rare that PhD candidates leave". Right now I don't want to explore further to explain why this disparity exists. To be frank I don't even know why I wrote this blog entry in the first place.