23Mar2018

SURPRISED BY ITS HIDDEN CHARM: AN ACADEMIC LOVE STORY WRITTEN BY A PHD STUDENT IN MEDICINE/DENTISTRY – Thai (VIETNAM)

Tartu is not my first love, but it is definitely my love at present. Although I had several opportunities to do either a Masters’ degree or a PhD degree elsewhere, I decided to settle down in Estonia. Why was that? I got some admissions to universities in the US. However, I could not afford the terribly high tuition fees that accompany these programmes. I was also unable to get any financial support from the university nor did I have access to a governmental fund, hence I had to decline the offers of those schools.

Luckily, I met my current supervisor in Vietnam and had an opportunity to visit Tartu for three months in 2014. During my stay, I was in the dental clinic of my supervisor every day. I have seen all state-of-art equipment and materials that I thought just existed in American textbooks.

But it was not just the working environment that appealed to me. The city itself was lively. A brand new world opened right before my eyes. A have-not-heard-before city surprised me with its hidden charm and a dynamic way of life. From that moment, I knew I had fallen in love with the city. I decided to apply for the PhD programme in Medicine at the University of Tartu (UT).

The annual Autumn Fair at the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats)

 

A year later, I got a scholarship to visit a university in Japan to take an entrance exam of the PhD programme. Believe it or not, I got the admission to the university and a scholarship. At that time, I was already admitted to the UT. Having said that, pursuing a PhD is a milestone in one’s career, so I had to choose deliberately. After taking into consideration several factors such as the university, the people, the environment, and my own feeling, I opted for the UT. Japan could have presented me with an interesting love affair, but Estonia was love at first sight.

A mouth guard made by a Japanese in Japan.

 

Back to the present, my relationship with the UT is one that has already been ongoing for past three years. I think I know the PhD programme in Medicine well enough to share with you the strengths of the programme at the UT.

First, it is FREE.

I get your attention and you read it right. Unlike PhD programmes elsewhere, which usually cost a lot, the PhD programme at the UT is tuition free. It is surely a big plus that influenced my choice for this particular programme. Moreover, as a PhD student, you will get a monthly stipend of 660 euros. The stipend is enough for you to live in Tartu without worrying about the financial burden.

Furthermore, PhD students who have Temporary Residence Permit or right of residence also get health insurance from the Estonian Health Insurance Fund (haigekassa). It means you do not have to buy the health insurance yourself. If you are interested in studying here, it might be worth taking a look at this info-sheet, which will tell you all about how to prepare for your PhD at the University of Tartu.

Second, the programme is research-based.

Although I still have to take some courses (60 out of 240 ECTS), the weight of the programme is on my research. My course schedule looks less packed than those of master and bachelor students, but this does not mean I have that much free time. I spend my time either in the clinic or doing independent research work. Regarding the independent research work, I can work either at home, at the office or in the library, so long as I get the work done. The good thing is that my timetable is rather flexible. The downside is that I could be working the whole day for an entire week. A friend of mine has said, “Today is weekend”. I replied, “What is that?”.

 

Third, there are useful courses.

Along with the compulsory courses, there are some very useful courses amongst the elective ones that I can strongly recommend to any PhD student. They are “Scientific Writing in English for Academic Publication”, “Conference Presentations in English: Abstracts, Posters and Paper Presentations” and “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education”. They are super helpful for you as a presenter at a conference or for your career as a teacher at a university. There is also an online course named “Introduction to Information Research” which you can follow to help familiarize yourself with online search and making use of the databases of the the UT Library.

Furthermore, there is a yearly conference for PhD students in Medicine with the aim of encouraging students to present their research in English. It is a good chance to practice your presentations, get to know other PhD students at the Faculty and have some days to chill out.

 

Fourth, there are different grants to support your attendance at a conference.

So long as you have an oral or a poster presentation at a conference, you can usually get a grant to attend that conference. Personally, I tend to apply for grants of Dora+, Kristjan Jaak, and a grant from Doctoral School. Besides those grants, I also had the pleasure of attending several conferences due to the projects of my supervisor for which I take part in the research.

I presented a poster at a conference in Vienna, Austria. It was actually a competition.

 

Fifth, professors are approachable, friendly and supportive, especially my supervisor.

I think I am quite lucky to have her as an overseer. Not only is she supportive in terms of academic work, she is also helping me integrate into Estonian culture and customs. She has taken me to some places that are rather unusual for a foreigner to visit such as Lottemaa Teemapark (Lotte Village is a theme park with over 100 attractions, themed houses, wonderful food experiences, souvenir shops and a beach waiting to be discovered). I have also experienced some Estonian cultural activities upon her recommendation such as making semla (vastlakukkel) or whisking in the sauna (vihtlemine saunas).

My supervisor and I were at a conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The conference is a part of the project of her team that I take part in.

 

With all these facts about the PhD programme in Medicine at the UT in mind, I hope I made a strong case to convince you to apply to the programme at the UT. Those facts are not limited to the programme in Medicine but applicable to other programmes at the university as well. If you’d like to know more about my programme specifically, you can always send me an e-mail.

Find your love in Tartu!