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Students abroad: Jan at Berkeley in the U.S.

17. 2. 2023

Honza, can you tell us something about yourself? What do you study? Where did you spend your exchange stay?

I am a Ph.D. student under prof Kristoufek’s supervision at IES in the Economics program, and I went on an exchange to the University of California, Berkeley for three months.

What made you decide for UC Berkeley? The reputation of the university, the professors or particular project?

The main driver was the GEOCEP project, which is run at Charles University and can open the door to going abroad for up to a year. The reputation of Berkeley was also a big factor. Berkeley is home for example to the 2021 Nobel laureate in Economics, David Card, or last year’s Chemistry Nobel went to Carolyn Bertozzi, who did her Ph.D. at Berkeley. There is even designated parking for Nobel laureates on campus.

I was invited to the department of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ARE) by Prof. David Zilberman, who collaborates with researchers at IES, and he himself holds the Wolf Prize, the second most prestigious award after the Nobel.

You are a PhD student, so what exactly did you do there?

Part of the stay was dedicated to research, and the rest to attending lectures and seminars. Berkeley is a public university, so you can attend anything. The classes featured not only Berkeley’s faculty but also visitors from around the U.S. from academia as well as industry. Besides attending ARE events, I enjoyed lectures at the Haas School of Business. There were often people from NBER or Blackrock, the largest global asset manager.

This exchange you had to secure yourself, there was no help of the International Office at all. How difficult and time consuming was it?

I got a lot of help from Prof. Janda at IES, who knows Prof. Zilberman, and from the GEOCEP team, where I am actually an administrator. So, I was happy to use the network and contribute to the GEOCEP project at the same time. But of course, it takes some time to handle the administrative side of things; find a place to stay, estimate finances, arrange things at home, and figure out visas and flights.

Although you were awarded partial funding, I don’t suppose it covered all your expenses, so how challenging was the financial side?

I was lucky to be able to combine the funding from the Mobility fund and GEOCEP. But still, since the USD got so strong against the EUR and the inflation in the U.S. was also relatively high, I had to be financially responsible.

But with a little effort, it is possible to figure out areas where one can save quite a lot. For example, cycling almost everywhere instead of taking the BART (San Francisco metro) and cooking at home. The main cost in San Francisco is the rent, so once you can get that within the budget, you are more than half-way there.

Part of the study requirements of PhD students is to go abroad (either conference participation or research, study stay). Is it manageable to implement it in your life as most of you already have a full-time job, partners, children…

Yes, it is manageable, but of course, it depends on personal circumstances. Not having children or a full-time job is definitely an advantage in this case. But I know of my colleagues at IES who recently went to New York City for a couple of months with their child, so it is possible.

Generally, one gets used to travelling during doctoral studies. I have also been to various conferences in Europe and Asia, which I think is a great advantage of the studies.

Tell us something regarding your first days. Any acclimatization problem or culture shocks?

Definitely! Everything is so far away compared to Europe. Americans mostly live in separate houses, so the cities are just vast. Americans drive their car everywhere, even around the corner. Public transport is quite expensive and ineffective compared to Prague. So, I used shared bike services (like Rekola) across Berkeley and San Francisco. Also, sometimes people just start talking to you on the street, which does not really happen back home. Or, there is no denying that the Bay Area has issues with homelessness, so you can see the large tent cities in some places, which was unusual to me.

But on the bright side, there are definitely great places you can hike or cycle in the city as well as the countryside. The Golden Gate Bridge is really breathtaking! Outside of San Francisco, Sierra Nevada is something I want to visit again. Eye-opening is also driving on U.S. highways; cars are joining from both left and right, and city overpasses can be a good maze. Americans love eating out and ordering take outs, so there are always lots of places to get a hamburger. I thought it was funny that they sold peeled, hard-boiled eggs in shops.

Would you share with us your favourite memory/experience?

Regarding the academic part, I enjoyed debating with Prof. Zilberman about Economics as well as basketball. Also, there was a lecture by Petter Kolm from NYU, who investigates a short-term disequilibrium between supply and demand in financial markets. He models the flow of trades as an image and uses image-processing machine-learning methods to predict short-term prices. That was an interesting approach and a well-delivered lecture.

Besides academic experience, hiking in Yosemite Park was absolutely amazing and I was really glad to visit the park. There is even a small national park Muir Woods near San Francisco with the famous Redwoods which is really nice to visit.

And finally, What’s next? You are in your final year/s of your studies. What are your plans after you finish your studies?

From the U.S. I went on another exchange at the University of Auckland in New Zealand (you only find out how vast the Pacific Ocean is when you fly 13 hours directly over it). I am hoping to make a great step toward finishing my Ph.D. this year with a high-quality publication. If that works out, I would like to apply for a post-doc position abroad.

I am sure that the Mobility fund helped me immensely in this endeavour, and I am really grateful for the support! Also, I would like to recommend everyone to take the mobility opportunities we have.

Thank you for your time. We wish you all the best. 

Do you want to go abroad as Jan did? Check out the current outgoing opportunities.