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I graduated with a masters from a good university in the Netherlands and am considering to accept a PhD at the National University of Singapore. However, since I have no experience with this university, it's hard for me to decide if this is a good idea academically. The research I'd be doing is very interesting, and both the university and the department where I'd work seem to be very good. I have a good idea what the academic culture is like in Europe, but less so in Singapore. The department of my PhD in Singapore is very international, also about one third of the researchers is European. I'd like to stay in academia after my PhD (at least, that's what I think now) and at least pursue a post-doc. For me, there are two main reasons to accept this PhD position:

  1. Interesting research topic and a good (so it seems, but not sure) research environment.
  2. Personal experience to live and work in an interesting place very different from home.

Does anyone here with a background in academics have experience or advice on the academic side of doing a PhD in Singapore? Specifically, is the academic culture comparable to Europe, and do I stand a good chance of obtaining a post-doc in Europe or the USA afterwards?

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    For the last subquestion, where have graduates from the groups you are interested in gone after their PhDs?
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 24, 2020 at 14:58
  • Attending conferences can be tricky in fields where most conferences take place in the U.S. or in Europe. Paying for multiple inter-continental flights per year is expensive.
    – Chr
    Nov 24, 2020 at 16:34
  • @JonCuster: As far as I can see, most have continued in academia, many of them in the US and Europe, but this is worth checking out further, thanks. Nov 24, 2020 at 16:59
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    @Chr: Fortunately, I will receive a large budget for these things, and according to a PhD student I spoke to, travelling will be no problem. Nov 24, 2020 at 17:01
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    The groups I know in Singapore are well connected to Australia, Europe, and the USA (in addition to China, Japan, and India to a lesser extent). On the other hand, I'd only know of groups that are connected like that... Check the last few years (pre-Covid) for conference presentations from the group(s), and where those folks ended up.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 24, 2020 at 17:40

1 Answer 1

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About point 1, it probably depends on one's field but Singapore is a nice place to graduate from. I really enjoyed the department there and working there in general.

About point 2, it should not be the only reason to do a PhD there but Singapore has a unique feel and is a very enjoyable experience in itself. As anecdotal as it may sound, the food is cheap, eclectic and very good.

A few caveats :

  • While life itself is kind of cheap in Singapore (eating in food courts is cheap, making your own food slightly more expensive), housing is expensive. You may need to share a flat with flatmates (that can be a very nice experience by the way, especially in a new place).
  • Having an immigration pass to do a PhD is, of course, not a problem, however your spouse may not get a pass (it depends on your income and I have been told that a typical post-doc salary is below the limit). You might want to check that if applicable.
  • From what I have seen both in Europe and Singapore, I would say that there may be slightly more pressure on PhDs and post-docs there than there is in Europe (of course Europe is a big place and it mainly depends on your supervisor).

Obtaining a post-doc in Europe/USA with a PhD in Singapore is not a problem in itself as long as you make sure you meet some professors working in Europe/USA and get yourself invited to some seminars when you're in Europe/USA. That is where the 'large budget for this kind of things' you talk about in the comments will come in handy.

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    Point 1 of course should also not be the only reason to do a phd there;)
    – user111388
    Nov 26, 2020 at 11:14
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    Since you mention spouses, it should probably be noted that things may be quite more difficult if OP is homosexual. Nov 26, 2020 at 11:31
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    Thanks @ClémentGuérin for your detailed answer! I do have a question about your comment about more pressure in Singapore: do you mean positive pressure to be productive, or more negative pressure in that the supervisor forces you to do stuff you don't want that only benefits him/her. I'm ok with the former. Nov 26, 2020 at 17:58
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    @dutchstudent, I definitely meant the former. For instance, PhD students working on Sundays in the department was a common sight in Singapore, not so much where I come from (France). A friend of mine has been told at the beginning of his post-doc by his supervisor that he should consider working in the office from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. While it may have been said as a joke, my friend did follow these instructions for quite some time. Nov 26, 2020 at 18:34
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    @ClémentGuérin: mmm, that doesn't sound very nice. My prospective PhD advisor doesn't seem to be that way to me, so I think I'll be fine. :) I have heard things like this happen in The Netherlands, too, but I guess it differs a lot per department. Nov 26, 2020 at 18:40

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