Studying overseas while married
March 21, 2011 2:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering the idea of moving (from Australia) to either the UK or USA for a PhD, but I'm worried about whether my significant other will be able to find work. Just how bad is the jobs situation over there?

She is a novice accountant, with about six months of work experience, 3 CPA exams down, and a degree from an Australian uni.

I know that things there are more grim employment-wise in the US and UK than they are here in Oz. It was hard for her to land her first job here in the same city that her university is in, let alone trying to get a job somewhere where they've never heard of it.

With governments in both countries slashing spending left and right there's probably going to be more contraction to come.

Australian universities have a bit of an inferiority complex and my supervisor and a lot of other academics say that if you get the opportunity to do your PhD overseas you should take it. But would it be worth it if we're both living off the scholarship pittance?
posted by moorooka to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Grad. school is always going to involve sacrifice of some sort. That said, you won't really know your options until you apply and see what kind of funding is on the table.

I was on a full scholarship at a top-ten American university for a PhD. But (big but) it was for English. Typically in a hard science type of program you'll get something around poverty level funding, maybe even a bit more at a top program. In the humanities, even at a top program, you can expect to have to live on less than 2, 000 USD / month (that estimate is on the high end as well). And rent in a college town is always higher than it should be. And as a foreigner you'll damn well want to make sure you have health insurance, which may or may not be given to you. If it isn't, don't even bother.

I'd say that a background in accounting is actually a good thing. The economy in America sucks quite hard right now but in a big city I doubt she'd have too much trouble finding a decent job. But another caveat -- at a typical "Big State U." type of program you'll be in a mid-size town with tons of highly educated, under-employed folks competing for jobs well below what they are worth. You've got other wives and husbands of graduate students, as well as those of professors, and a high number of college grads who just don't seem to want to move on, even though they could be making a lot more somewhere else.

My instincts tell me you could make this work if you get a decent ride and benefits package, and your school is in or near a major city.
posted by bardic at 2:25 AM on March 21, 2011

She should apply to some firms in the UK and see what happens.
posted by parmanparman at 2:32 AM on March 21, 2011

Can't really comment on much of this except to say that there are plenty of accounting positions in the UK, particularly in London and Edinburgh within financial services. The one caveat is that most of these are for fully-qualified accountants. I am not sure how it would work out if she was to switch CPA streams but I am sure she won't be the first person to do that so it should be fine.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:59 AM on March 21, 2011

I just moved back to the US after many years abroad and have not been able to find a job in my field (finance) for six months, despite many years of work and good qualifications. I am now looking at moving back to the UK for work.
posted by and hey Charlie at 3:04 AM on March 21, 2011

Will she even be allowed to get a work visa for the first year ? I dont quite know what the situation is to the UK but to the US i doubt she would be allowed to go and just start working even if a job was there.
posted by stuartmm at 3:09 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just gonna throw this out there in case you were the sciences, a Ph.D. in the US takes 5-6 years. From my understanding, in the UK and Australia they generally take 3-4 years. (in the humanities I don't think there's such a large difference in timing). I did my Ph.D. in the US and am doing my post-doc in Australia, but would have better off doing it the other way around in terms of making progress on the career track, since it took me 6 years to finish my Ph.D. (and that was considered pretty standard).
posted by emd3737 at 4:00 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

For a UK PhD funding (assuming you get it) will be for 3 years. Most people take ~3.5 years to finish, though some people do manage in 3. You only get an extension on your funding if you've had a major obstacle (e.g. essential equipment unavailable for reasons outside your control), so you will need to plan to either work really hard and finish in 3 years, or save enough of your funding to get you through the last bit. If you're in the sciences funding shouldn't be too hard to get, but signifigcantly more difficult (though not totally impossible) in the arts.

A question I can't answer but that you should consider whether the exams she's passed have any currency/validity in the UK/US accountancy industry. If they do, they may give her a big advantage in finding work, since she wouldn't be starting from scratch. Even if the exams themselves don't officially count, is the training similar enough that her training so far is relevant and useful?
posted by *becca* at 5:40 AM on March 21, 2011

She would have a quite difficult time working in the US from a visa perspective. F-2 visas (AKA spouse of someone on a student visa) do not allow one to work.

If she really wanted to do it her best option is to get hired in Oz and transferred to the US.
posted by JPD at 5:42 AM on March 21, 2011

Australian universities have a bit of an inferiority complex and my supervisor and a lot of other academics say that if you get the opportunity to do your PhD overseas you should take it. But would it be worth it if we're both living off the scholarship pittance?
This is good advice, unfortunately. If you stayed on in Oz, the question would always be there—in the minds of interview panels or search committees—why didn't he go overseas for his PhD? Wasn't he good enough? It's maddening, but it's the way Australasian academia thinks about its own postgraduate population.

Has your partner thought about temping? It could be the best option for finding work in the UK right now. If any of her colleagues have connections or experience working in the UK, it might be worthwhile pumping them for the names of temping agencies, etc., that have good reputations and could place her easily. This is what my wife contemplated doing when I came to the UK for a postdoc last year. In the end, she managed to find a fixed-term contract position in her own professional field, but it could work for your partner.

As for
would it be worth it if we're both living off the scholarship pittance?
realistically, it's hard financially and academic spouses can find life incredibly isolating, especially if they're not working themselves. You just have to treat it as your OE: you'll be together, in a foreign country, just over the ditch from Greece, or Spain, or wherever. How cool is that?
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:20 AM on March 21, 2011

I can't answer the question as to how hard it is to find a job in the US or the UK, but as an academic spouse (... sigh) I can tell you it is *incredibly* hard. I have a PhD myself, but have decided to bail from academia, but IMHO there's a bit of a stigma to being the trailing spouse.

If doing a PhD overseas will position you well in your field, and if your partner can get a working visa it can be a real adventure. But right now I'd give my eye teeth to go back home.
posted by nerdfish at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2011

I live in the US and work peripherally in her field. If she can get a visa, if her credentials are recognized, and if you choose to live in a decent sized city with the right employment outlook, she'll be fine. That's a lot of "if's." It would be helpful to have more information about where you would be living but you probably don't know yet. I'm sure the economy in Australian cities differ from one another and in the US, it's the same. Trying to make it work in Ann Arbor, MI is not the same as trying to make it work in Austin, TX, for example. Both big university towns, one with more opportunity for her than the other (visa aside of course-that's its own beast). I mean, the rumors are true-the economy sucks and jobs in many fields and many cities are extremely hard to come by but on the other side of the coin, in the metro Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I found a job in about six weeks once I decided I wanted one. So where you live and whether or not the US recognizes her credentials is really really important. I'd start with the visa and if that can be done, check accounting forums and credentialing bodies and find out how she'd be looking as far as all that goes.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:11 AM on March 21, 2011

It is a tricky decision. Here are some things I would consider -

* as emd3737 said, a PhD in North America takes a long time. If you are in the biological sciences, you will likely be required to do coursework as well as research and some of that coursework might be a repetition of what you did in third year (using the same textbook even!)

* Some universities seem to have specific rules as to have you must have completed before you graduate eg two papers published, minimum. This can be difficult, especially if you have a project that just doesn't work out well (not through lack of hard work of course, due to other problems). I've found Australian universities more lenient in this respect - you can still write up your thesis, get your PhD and move on to a post-doc

* yes, the Australian universities might have an inferiority compex, but I don't actually think it extends so much to doing your PhD overseas, as much as doing a post-doc overseas. I would only recommend an overseas PhD if you are going to be working with an absolute guru in your field, who has very, very good funding.

* If you stayed in Australia for your PhD, then did a post-doc in the US, you could possibly come over on the E-3 visa, which is specially for Australians (IANAimmigrationL). The benefit to this is that your spouse is entitled to work when you hold this visa. Look into the visa situation very carefully - as JPD said, I don't think she could work in the US if you were here on a student visa.

* the downside to doing a post-doc in North America is that the salaries are a lot less than post doc salaries in Australia (although depending on the city, the cost of living can be much cheaper) However, things are slowly changing on this front, so maybe by the time you would have finished your PhD in Australia, post-doc salaries may have improved.

My experience - I am Australian, did my PhD in Australia and then moved to Canada for my first post-doc. I was 27 years old when I came over and a lot of people were shocked that I was so young and doing a post doc. Most of my friends here are finish their PhD when they are 30 years old. I definitely feel like it was to my advantage that I did my PhD in Australia.
posted by unlaced at 8:11 AM on March 21, 2011

The job situation will depend heavily on where the specific universities are; it will change for every location within either the US or the UK (as it does in most countries - NYC is not Ann Arbour, London is not Exeter, etc). You should find out about the specific economies of each place as you are doing your applications and, if accepted, chosing programs.

But I can clarify the visa situation for the United States, having been a married graduate student there. If you are accepted to any graduate program with a scholarship, you will be qualified to apply for the optional J-1 visa. This visa is not open to self-funding students (they have to take an F1), but it is open to students funded by their department, school, country or other funding body.

The spouses of F-1 students are not allowed to work; the spouses of J-1 students are allowed to apply for a work visa. The work visa is not granted automatically and you will have to make a case to receive it (that you don't need the money to support the two of you, but merely to keep up with your cultural customs - yes, it's weird).

You will need to show evidence of sufficient money to support both of you before you will be allowed to move to the US - the US home-office equivalent will say exactly how much that is, depending on the local cost of living. This was about $36,000 for 2 people when we applied, for living in a small city in the NE (less money then NYC or Chicago, more than midwest or south).

But having established that you have the minimum - even if you have to borrow from family to show that you "have" it - if you are on the J-1 visa, your spouse can get a work permit and earn money to support the both of you I mean, your regular cultural activities. The work permit will take about 3 months to come after applying (which you must do after landing), and will be valid for as long as their J-2 (spouse of J-1) visa is valid. It cost us about $350 to get the work permit.
posted by jb at 10:33 AM on March 21, 2011

UK wise I will point out that the cuts to public sector funding are about to kick in, which will mean lots of people being out out of work directly, and probably lots more indirectly a firms servicing the public sector no longer attract enough business. Which isn't going to make finding anything any easier.
posted by biffa at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2011

I wouldn't class the UK as being particularly hard to find work in, although to be fair maybe I've been lucky. I found it much more of a struggle finding work during a year in Melbourne recently, as did all the other backpacker types I met - perhaps this was due to Australians wanting to hire Australians, though. (Not in a racist 'bloody foreigners taking our jobs and our wimmin' way, just easier visa-wise to hire a local.) Your other half could also do something outside her field if need be, there are jobs about. As others have pointed out though, her visa could be an issue. I'd look first of all for countries where a student or spouse visa allows working alongside it - then look for unis in that country. She could also look for cash in hand work - plenty of that where I am (Belfast), but of course that might not be her thing.
posted by mudkicker at 10:41 AM on March 22, 2011

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