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How I obtained the PhD student residence permit

I have always been a fan of Swedish efficiency in terms of public service. Coming from where I came from, it certainly is a huge improvement. It is, of course, not perfect. I heard stories of hiccups here and there, but never have I thought that I would experience such hiccups myself. I am talking here about the process of getting a Ph.D. student residence permit.

The indication came far before I was officially admitted as a Ph.D. student, actually. During the preparation for my admission, I was browsing some KI pages about the residence permit for doctoral students, and I stumbled upon a page called ‘New rules for change of status’. “What is this?” I wondered. I read on and suddenly panic washed over me.

Apparently there were some changes in the Swedish Migration Agency’s practice regarding the procedure of obtaining a residence permit for PhD student. In Sweden, and especially at KI, as I told previously, once you got a PhD position, it doesn’t automatically mean that you are enrolled as a PhD student, because you have to go through a certain admission process beforehand. For international students, usually, they could come first using visiting researcher visa during such preparation time, and apply for PhD student permit once they are admitted. They could keep on working while waiting for such permit. With the new rules, you could not be in Sweden when the Migration Agency make a decision regarding your permit, which means that somehow, somewhere during your PhD, you will have to leave your work, go abroad, and not coming back until you make sure that your permit has been granted. The thing is, and based on my experience, it could be hard to estimate when you will get the decision for the permit, i.e. whether or not your permit is approved. So, it would be hard to plan in advance when, for how long, and where you have to travel. And also, depending on whether or not you still have a valid visa at the time of application, you might either have to go back to your home country, and wait for the permit there, or you could just simply travel within Europe/Schengen where your visa is accepted. Either way, you will have to send a proof to the migration officer that you are not in Sweden, i.e. a picture in front of a landmark, with the day’s newspaper to show them the date.

I was trying to find more information regarding this new practice in the Swedish Migration Agency website. None. Nada. And I searched both Swedish and English website, mind you. So the only source of information was this KI webpage. It was very frustrating because part of me did not want to believe that such complications exist, but another part of me was worried, like “What if it were true? How should I go through that?” I also tried to communicate this with my supervisors but they were as clueless as I was. At that point, I also had another kind of worry, like,

”What if they regret employing me, an immigrant, because of this complications?”

I tried to ask around, to find more clues about this new practice. I sent an e-mail to another friend whom I knew also recently got a PhD position. I sent another e-mail to the contact person at the KI webpage. I talked to the HR (human resources) and discussing the options. At that point, I had an employment contract until December 2017 and valid visiting researcher visa until that point of time. But my admission seminar would be held in the beginning of December and we were not sure when I would be officially admitted as a PhD. It might take 1-2 weeks until the decision came. And then there would be Christmas and New Year’s holiday. Should I prolong the visiting researcher visa while waiting, or should I wait a bit and just directly applied for the PhD permit? But if I did not have a valid visa while waiting for PhD permit decision, I would have to go back to my home country and it would mean longer pause during my PhD work. In the end, it was decided that my employment contract (as a R&D trainee) would be prolonged for some months into 2018 so I could prolong my visiting researcher visa. If I got admitted during that period, I would apply for the PhD permit then.

Luckily, during this ask-around period, I met a colleague who had gone through the same process. According to her, once you were abroad and sent the proof that you were abroad (i.e. the picture), the decision came almost immediately, which meant that she did not actually have to stay THAT long outside Sweden. A cruise trip would suffice, but it should not be on the weekends, since the officer might not work during that time and could not respond to your inquiries. It was such a HUGE relief to hear such piece of information. My only concern was that I would have to go for a prolonged period of time, not being able to work, missed courses, etc etc. But apparently, that did not have to be the case.

In the middle of January 2018, I got the extension for my visiting researcher visa. I had also been officially admitted as a PhD student, so then it would be time to apply for the PhD student permit. I remembered that I could not even apply via the website because I could not choose to have my permit decision sent to my address in Sweden (you had to choose one of the Swedish embassies abroad), so I sent my application via post.

Around two weeks later, 30 January 2018 (wow I even remembered the date!), I received a letter from the Swedish Migration Agency which basically stated that I should leave Sweden in order to get my application processed. I should leave by 9 February 2018, but they also gave me the chance to explain if I should be exempted from this rule. I did not think I would qualify for rule exemptions anyway, so I fired away some e-mails and messages to my supervisors and friends saying that I got the letter and that I would be away for some time. Afterwards, I started looking for cheap plane tickets (cruise was not an option because my husband could not stand traveling by ship). I made this matrix to compare different scenarios of the travel plan, and decided that travelling to Gdańsk, Poland would be the most viable option. Although my colleague said that you only needed one day to get the decision, I decided to extend my travel into 5 days (including weekend) in case something happened. I was extremely lucky because none of my courses had started at that time and the data for the project was still being prepared so I was not in the middle of something very urgent from my work. But think if I had different research, work in the lab, or with the animals. It might mean a more complicated situation than what I had to experience.

When I came to work the next day (I would travel the day after), it seemed that everybody (at least in the research group) had known about my story 🐻 and they were very supportive about that. I feel touched, honestly… ❤

We travelled on Thursday, 1 February 2018 to Gdańsk and arrived in the afternoon. I was actually impressed by the new and modern airport there. We could have actually stayed in the airport and take a picture there, but we decided to go to the city centre. At the central station, we were looking for the kiosk which sold newspaper and debated for some time as to which one we should buy (which, actually did not matter because we did not understand the language anyway XD ). In the end we decided to buy a ‘serious’ looking newspaper and took our picture with it. It might seem awkward to see someone struck a pose in front of the train station while holding the newspaper, all-smiling when the news seemed to be about riot ^^’ (honestly we did not know what the news was about). We even used the proper camera (DSLR) because we were afraid that if we only used the phone, the date in the newspaper could not be seen when you zoomed it too highly. But because of that, we had to wait until we arrived in the hotel to transfer the picture and sent it to our case officer. By that time it was already nearly 16.00. I was really afraid that the case-officer had gone home, but thankfully he replied and said that he would inform me as soon as a decision had been made. I understood that it was already late, so I tried not to think about it until the following day.

The following day we waited, and waited, and waited (while also exploring Gdańsk – a beautiful city! Especially the old town) but did not hear anything back. Meanwhile, a friend who was also travelling for the same purpose said that he had got the decision almost immediately afterwards! I was desperate. 😥 It was Friday around 16.00. What if we did not get the decision until next week? I was panicked. In that moment of desperation, I tried to login to the Migration Agency’s website. And there it stood that a decision had been made for my application! What? But what would be the decision? We did not know. But we were hopeful, so we tried to go through the weekend in peace and travelled to Warsaw (another beautiful city and a city I’ve always wanted to visit!).

But then Monday came and we would go back to Sweden that day, but we still did not know what the decision was. And so I tried to e-mail our case officer again. Thankfully he replied almost immediately and said that our permits were granted! Alhamdulillah! Thank God!!! So we could finally travel back in peace, knowing that we had the required permit arranged…

I know that I was not the only one affected by this new rules and that everyone had different stories on how they were affected. Some might have it harder than me, so I don’t want to invalidate what they had gone through. I know also that the Migration Agency, at least for my part, had tried to make this process went as smooth as possible. But I really hope that there will be a more practical solution in the future for this process.

Let’s hope!

 

alicia_nevriana

The picture I sent to the case officer

 

 

 

 

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How I end up being a PhD (student) – Part 1

People want to be a PhD for different reasons. Some might want to do good in the world. Others might need the degree to advance their career. For me, I have always had a thought in the back of my mind that I have to be better than my parents. Both of them have PhDs from abroad so I’ve always wanted to be like them. Another thing is that I am a nerd – an ambitious nerd, to be exact. So I also thought that I should reach the highest possible degree available. I see it as a personal challenge. People might think that such reason is not pure, but I am just trying to be honest here.

However, this “dream” has not always been formulated very clearly. When I was asked what I would like to do after my master studies, I’d always answered, ‘I want to do a PhD’. But at that point, I had no idea what kind of PhD I wanted, where, when, how would I get the funding, etc etc.

It was even more complicated after I got into the thesis writing because honestly, it was hard. Writing a thesis is hard. Doing a research is hard. Even though you love the field, there will come a moment when you feel that this is suck. Things did not progress as you wish. Honestly, I felt a bit traumatic afterwards. I mean, I still wanted to do a PhD, but maybe not immediately afterwards.

God seemed to listen to my wish. I got a position as a research assistant some months after my graduation. But of course this was a temporary position and it was very prone to funding. No money=out. However, my supervisor was really kind that she introduced me to another colleague of hers and helped me getting another position once my contract was over. By this time, half of my closest friends had already got a PhD position, so I felt a bit of completely unnecessary peer-pressure here (almost like the gym thing).

Oh before I continue, what I meant by doing the PhD is working as a PhD student (i.e. receiving a salary) and not simply enrolling in a PhD program where you had to pay tuition fees, etc. I was open for scholarship options, although I preferred being employed due to my financial conditions. And I preferred to do the PhD in Sweden because basically, Sweden is a heaven for public health research with its abundance of data available.

Anyway.

When I had my first employment talk with my supervisor, I made my intention clear that I wanted to pursue a PhD. And she was very supportive, actually. The thing is, since PhD position in Sweden is usually project-based, it often only opens when there is a project available within a research group. That means, no project=no PhD position. Of course, you can always try to find your own funding (from your home country, for example), but even that is not always easy. And since there had been no formal agreement between KI and Indonesian universities (as far as I know), I couldn’t do the PhD under that schemes. So basically, what I had to do was to apply to as many PhD positions as I could.

At first, I was very picky on to what positions I was applying to. I had this kind of ideal that the PhD project should suit my interest (and I still am, actually). But my field of interest (injury epidemiology) is not the biggest public health area there is. I thought even that this area is severely under-funded, not only for the PhD project but also in general. It’s sad, but I sometimes feel like this area is a forgotten area in public health.

Anyway.

After some time, I started expanding my search. Anything that touches upon epidemiology, if I had the qualification (and sufficient interest to learn more about), I would apply. I also tried to look for PhD positions in injury epidemiology in other countries. I could assure you that it was a painstaking process. It goes pretty much like this: find announcement-apply-rejected-find announcement-apply-rejected and so on and so forth.

It was not until almost 1 year that I finally got the invitation for an interview. The first interview ever. I thought I performed well. But on my way to Indonesia, literally 30,000 feet above, I received another rejection. (Yes, there was a quite good internet connection inside Emirates’ plane – not an advertisement). I cried inside the plane. Felt that I was so stupid and not worthy of a PhD position. I felt frustrated. I wondered why. I even had published a paper and being invited for an oral presentation at a conference, all while I was still merely a research assistant. So why??? I think that was one of the lowest points in my life, although I was actually high up above.

Autumn semester came. Unexpectedly, I was contacted by a senior researcher in Australia whose project I had applied for months before. She said that I might not suit the current position but she also had another project which I might be interested in. She also said that she was willing to help me with the applications and she might be able to increase the stipend should I be admitted. I said I would like to give it a go.

At around the same time, I saw an announcement for a PhD position in mental health epidemiology in my current institution. It was not my field at all, but I thought I might be able to learn so I applied anyway. Surprisingly, I was being called for an interview! It was an interesting interview although I still couldn’t comprehend why I said I wanted to perform in a concert hall when being asked what my dream was (facepalm). I think old habit never dies. #musicianatheart

Some weeks later, I got the announcement that I was accepted. In both PhD positions. On the same day.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

My first emotion was sadness. I know it’s strange. But I was sad because I would leave my current injury research group, leave the project, leave my office and choose between those two positions. I was confused. On one hand, I really wanted to study injuries. On the other hand, I knew that many injury cases had some mental health backgrounds on it. Take suicide, for example. So I might actually learn something that would be useful for injury prevention work in the future. It was such a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge dilemma for me. One of the most difficult decisions I had to take. But after some time contemplating, and asking around, I decided to stay in Sweden and take the PhD position at KI.

So yes… That’s pretty much how I ended up being a PhD student 🙂

It took me one good year to get the position only (not officially being admitted – because in KI you need to go through admission seminar in order to be officially admitted as a PhD student – but that’s another story).

What I was trying to say was… everybody has their own timeline, apparently. And as you know, time is constant (usually – we’re not gonna go through the physics here). You can’t just speed up your timeline and hope that you will be in the same position as your friends at the same time. Of course, it can be a bit annoying at times when people keep asking you when you’re going to be a PhD student, given that most of your colleagues are already in that position when you yourself don’t know if it will eventually happen. But whatever happens in your life, it will happen at the right time.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

new office

My new office. I’m glad it’s all green ❤