Now, I have already been back in Finland for a couple of weeks and I am back at my old desk where it all started. Unfortunately, the desk was just as messy as when I left it in December. The research visit was a great experience and I will always remember it with joy.
In my previous posts I have written more details about my activities at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and to summarize I must say that I learned a lot. Being able to spend half a year in one of the world’s leading research groups in the field was a great experience. The visit gave me a wider knowledge base in my field of research, and I learned about some important techniques that I would not have come across otherwise. This resulted in several new ideas, and I am currently writing a paper based on these ideas. I will also present some results obtained during my stay in a conference later in the fall.
Visiting another university as a PhD student is defiantly a valuable experience, and it is even mandatory in some European countries. It is really refreshing to work in a different environment for some period. Otherwise, it is easy to get stuck in the same mindset and follow old routines. Due to deadlines and limited founding, it is easy to ignore the opportunity of going for a research visit. However, I think it is an experience that will clearly pay off in the end and I warmly recommend other PhD students to also go for a research visit.
There were several factors that helped making the research visit a success. Prof. Grossmann who I visited is one of the kindest persons I have met, and I am truly grateful that he invited me to CMU. The research group in process systems engineering is also an amazing group of smart and friendly people. During my time at CMU I got to know many of them and I made many new friends at the university. I want to thank you all for making my stay such a nice experience, we had many interesting discussions, nice coffee breaks and late dinners. I am also lucky that my wife could accompany me during my stay.
Finally, I wanted to give a few tips for anyone planning a research visit to a university in USA, some of these things might be trivial but hopefully useful for someone. First start planning well in advance, every step in the process takes more time than you realize. Getting the paperwork needed for the visa takes quite a lot of time, and you need these forms before you can actually apply for the visa. In Finland we also have to get an interview at the US embassy, and getting an appointment can take quite some time. I had to wait almost a month for an appointment, and the whole process toke about 3 months. So, start planning well in advance.
Keep in mind that the USA is not a cheap country to live in. I have often been told that everything is expensive in Finland, but most things are at least as expensive in USA. But fortunately, there are several grants that support PhD students for going abroad. Take your time when writing applications, and always ask someone else to read your application. Getting someone else’s opinion usually results in a much better application. Also keep in mind that the person reading the application is usually not an expert in your field. Speaking of money, do not travel to the US without an insurance. You are in real trouble if you get sick in anyway without an insurance! Otherwise, I think it is a really nice and interesting country, and as a Finn you might be surprised how friendly and talkative people are.
Do not hesitate to go if you have a similar opportunity!