How to choose a country/city?

by joaolkf 4 min read2nd Nov 201359 comments


EDIT: I've found a very relevant indicator for my question, see "Quality of life" criteria below.

My main question is: which non-academic factors should I consider when moving to another country/city for a PhD? Further, I would also like to evaluate each country/city1 according to those criteria, but first I need to know which are the relevant criteria. If you know any (any at all) scientific literature on moving to another country and well being, let me know.

I've lived in Brazil all my life, I really like it here for many reasons. Mostly, by how personal relationships are established and maintained. However, Brazil's inability to construct a stable well developed society have crippled my intellectual development, and I simply cannot take it anymore - my brain will die here. Moreover, I feel like most of my high level desires(values) are much more in line with countries on the other end of the World Values Survey graphic. I have rational/secular and self-expressing values, instead of traditional-survival oriented ones. For all those reasons, I will be applying for my PhD aboard. I have pondered many of the career and academic factors involved, and I've had the help of many good and objective indexes available (e.g.: here and here). I've mapped most of the Departments of Philosophy in which I could research my topic (moral enhancement), and I believe these are the major factors. However, there is one other important factor I'm a bit clueless about: which country/city is better in all other aspects already not accounted by academic criteria?

My main options are2:

  • 1st: Oxford (no need to explain)
  • 2nd: Manchester (it's near Oxford, John Harris is there, one of the foremost researchers on moral enhancement)
  • 3rd: Stockholm (where everyone is born a transhumanist)
  • 3rd: Wellington, New Zealand (Nicholas Agar is there, one of the foremost researchers on moral enhancement)
  • 4th: Some places in continental Europe I'm still investigating (e.g.: Zurich , Munich)
  • 4th: Brazil (bioethics program in Rio de Janeiro)

However, this list is solely based on academic criteria. I need to factor in non-academic criteria. In fact, I do not even know which are the relevant non-academic criteria. That would be my first question.  I got fixated on the World Values Survey factors, but I might be wrong. I would gather the happiness index is important, but it might not vary for the same individual between countries, or it might covary oddly with the happiness index of the destination country.  My second question would be how each country/city is ranked according to these criteria.

There are many things that will be affected by accessing these other factors. First, I think Oxford is far, far above the 2nd option. But it is above enough that if I do not get in there on the first time (80% probability), I should wait and apply next year again instead of going to somewhere else where I did get accepted? Second, my current plan is to build the strongest possible application for Oxford and use it elsewhere. But if Oxford is not so clearly the undisputed 1st place, then I should be more concerned with building a good application that also accounted for other countries specific criteria. Furthermore, right now, I think I have a major bias against New Zealand. In terms of moral enhancement research it would be the second best after Oxford, it has huge human development, freedom and happiness indexes. However, the fact it is in the freaking middle of nowhere is very discouraging. Am I wrong about this? What are the correct factors I should be accounting for?

Here is a list of the factors I could gather from the comments, mostly the one by MathiasZaman:

  • World Values Survey: Already explained above, I believe is one of the most important. But I wonder if I'm not biased and fixated on this. I would also like to have a Cities Values Survey, since in reality I'm choosing cities.
  • Quality of life: It should matter. But I haven't found a good index for not-huge cities. The index for countries are well know. Sweden and New Zealand take the lead, then England and after a while Brazil. However, obviously, being an expatriate changes things a lot. If you know of an expatriates' quality of life index for cities or countries, please, let me know. However, there's one good indicator for expatriates available, but it is only for countries though.
  • Relative closeness to other countries: I'm having a hard time spelling out this one, but check this comment by Kaj.
  • Language barrier: This is hard to account for. I'm expecting that in no developed country I would be put in a situation where relevant people (from my university) would not be talking in English if I'm on the conversation. If it is not true, this is majorly relevant. If it is true, this is mildly relevant. I would expect this would be both a function of English proficiency and willingness to talk in English. Note Sweden is the highest in proficiency and the rest of continental Europe is the lowest. However, I do not know how to find the "willingness" factor.
  • Socio-economic system: Highly relevant. I believe this is accounted for on the World Values Survey, as type of government strongly covaries with values. More modern (rational-secular/self-expressing) have more liberal systems, while less modern have more strong governments. (while the really ancient ones have almost no State).
  • Public transport and real estate: Highly practical and I would not have thought if not for the comments. Commuting times and cost are very important. Real estate also, one of the many reasons I have not considered London was because of extremely high rents. Also, this brings back to mind why I posted this. I remember reading a very useful post on how to choose a house, where it pointed out to many relevant but unaccounted factors, commuting was one of them. What I want is something similar for cities.
  • Finances: It is mildly relevant, I do not believe I will have a desire for anything else besides researching, specially in Oxford. But I might be wrong. How I will finance myself is still a bit uncertain. For high ranking universities I will probably have a scholarship from Brazil, otherwise I will need a scholarship from elsewhere. With the probabilities in brackets, and some living costs factored in:
    • Oxford: Brazilian government scholarship. They will give me 1100 EUR per month besides paying for all the fees and accommodation. They pay one international travel per year. (90%) High living costs.
    • Manchester, same as above. (70%)
    • Stockholm: Swedish government salary (there a PhD is a job). For an Physics position it was ~2500 EUR per month.(100%) It has a very high living cost for expatriates
    • Wellington: I don't know, but will find out.
    • Brazil: 950 EUR per month (70%). Low living costs. 
  • International status: Makes a huge difference if one lives in a city by desire or by merely being born there. Prima facie, one should be more interesting if she is there by desire. Thus, I should give priority to more international cities. I will have to use anecdotal evidence here, since on normal datasets low skilled immigrants will dominate the sample. If I were less busy, I would compile data on an university-by-university basis.

Finally, please remember this not a competition between countries or cities and refrain for expressing any, however tiny, nationalism on the comments. I'm not expressing my subjective feelings either, I'm merely trying to find out the relevant factors and how countries or cities rank according to them.



1. I would mostly like to be comparing cities, which was what I did when accounting for academic criteria, however (a) some datas are only available for countries, (b) in some cases I do not know to which city I will go and (c) this makes the analysis more complex.

2. US is out of the table for 4 reasons: (1) I would have to throw my MPhil on the garbage and start over. (2) Isn't that far away from a survival-traditional oriented society. (3) GRE (philosophy is the most competitive PhD program, I would have to nearly ace it, and I simply can't do that at the present time) (4) Doesn't have many transhumanistic oriented philosophy departments, specially on the top universities. Canada is out for (1), (3) and (4).