Seven tips for academics moving to Ecuador

[:en]In Europe and the United States, job openings for professors are scarce. In developing countries, on the other hand, there is a high demand for academics with PhDs to strengthen universities.

When my husband (from Ecuador, with a PhD from the USA) and I (Belgian, with a PhD from the Netherlands) were looking for a place to settle down, we thought our options through deeply. My husband looked at industry job openings in Europe, but the multitude of languages required for working in Northern Europe is a hurdle for international applicants. I looked at faculty openings in the part of the USA where my husband was working at that time, and the options were few and unattractive. Then, we considered my husband’s home country Ecuador, where professionals with PhDs are in high demand at the universities, and we would be living close to family. We decided to take the plunge, box up our stuff, and ship everything to Ecuador. Ecuador is a welcoming country for academics. The new rules for higher education institutions include, amongst others, increasing the number of faculty members with PhDs at the Ecuadorian universities. Job applicants with PhDs are thus attractive to hire.

Certainly, if you are a biologist, Ecuador is heaven for field work. The Galapagos, Amazon jungle, sweltering hot mangroves of the coast, and the icy cold snow-capped peaks of the Andean mountains host a variety of fauna and flora that will make every biologist’s heart sing. I, on the other hand, am a structural engineer, and Ecuador was initially a less obvious choice. Nonetheless, I have found what works to move my career forward from my current location. In this post, I’ll share my seven best tips with you:

1. Pioneer
If you come to Ecuador, don’t expect to find established labs. Instead, be prepared to pioneer and develop your own labs, fund your software licenses, and start your own ties to the industry. Learn to be the entrepreneur of your research career.

2. Teach beyond your university
Share the knowledge you obtain abroad. Offer to speak at industry events, to the broader public, at schools, and at other universities. Bring attention to topics that may perhaps be lacking in popularity at the moment, to raise concern.

3. Give back to local communities
Use the skills you learned during your studies to give back to your community at large. Volunteer for causes, with your technical knowledge– it is an element that is even important for the evaluation of the universities.

4. Set up international collaborations
Participate in technical committees of international associations. You may be the only researcher in your niche field in Ecuador, so you need to connect with your community outside of the country. Travel to conferences. Work with colleagues internationally.

5. Build a contact with a well-established university
If you want to move your research career forward, and find that you have limited resources in Ecuador, see if you can become a guest researcher or even a part-time faculty member at a top-ranked university. Spend your summers doing research abroad, then bring your fresh knowledge back to Ecuador to share it with your students.

6. Do research with your students
The idea that you can only do research with graduate students is wrong. In Ecuador, virtually all higher education is at the undergraduate level. You can take on smaller projects with undergraduate students. It’s very rewarding to teach young students how to do research, and how to write a first paper for publication.

7. Enjoy the country
Last, but not least: if you move to Ecuador, you are in a fascinating place. Take time to discover the country, taste the local flavours, and visit all the famous places that draw travellers from all over the world to this South American gem.

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Dr. Eva Lantsoght is a Full Professor in Civil Engineering at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador and a part-time researcher at the Concrete Structures research group of Delft University of Technology. She blogs at PhD Talk about her research and general academic topics and is the author of ‘The A-Z of PhD Trajectory: A Practice Guide for a Successful Journey’ Springer, 2018).

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