Last summer I did my research on wood-pastures in western Estonia (counties Saaremaa and Läänemaa) as visiting PhD student at the Eestii Maaülikool (Estonian University of Life Science) in Tartu. As the 2014 field season begins, I was looking back and discussing with colleagues about the advantages and disadvantages of different countries in the way they can support or hamper your research. Of course it’s highly subjective, but I recognized I was quite lucky being in Estonia, and on a scale of 10 points I would give 10. Here is why:
- The funding. Estonia has a funding for international PhD students (DoRa) to come to Estonia and do some research. Despite the fact that Estonia is a pretty small country, it’s really nice that it invests so much in networking with scientists from other countries.
- Almost everyone is fluent in English. Under 30 they are always able to talk to you in English and also older people have at least some basic knowledge. If not English, they often speak German. This makes doing research (especially interviews!) so much more rewarding, and really helped me get a better insight into my study area.
- Everyone is really helpful. If you need to find something or figure out something you will always get some help. This counts for my colleagues at the University, for the environmental board in my study area and also for the farmers I worked with. If I couldn’t figure out to whom my site belongs, they would not hesitate to make calls to ask every available person if they knew something, and often they gave me the phone number of the owner in the end. The environmental board was always available for my questions and also gave me the possibility to stay in one of their houses for a while.
- Information from the authorities is provided for everyone. For example, all GIS related stuff. All information I was used to having to pay for, or to only get it after a lot of searching, I could find online in a browser based GIS (http://xgis.maaamet.ee/xGIS/XGis – of course also in English). If you are working for a university, authorities or a NGO you can get a connection from your GIS program to a server where all these information are available for you (I think it is worth giving two points for this)
- Telephone and internet connection is something you can rarely lose. If you have an internet stick you can be online everywhere. If not, almost everywhere because there are hotspots every two meters.
- The roads are just perfect (ok, in Tallinn this is not always true, but this wasn’t my study area). So even if a road is mapped as dirt road, most of the time you can be sure, everything that is mapped you can use without a four wheel drive.
- University is important. If you are telling people you are doing your PhD (in Estonian Doktoritöö) that means something. They are willing to talk to you, help you (see 3.) and even tell you that you are doing important things (finally somebody got it 🙂 ).
- The bigger supermarkets are open till 11 pm and also on Sundays. You get a lot of ready-made food (really good food) so you don’t even have to cook in the evening. And if there is nothing available close by, we come back to point 3: There are always helpful people providing you with food.
- People have a different attitude towards nature and nature conservation. Maybe my sample of people is a little bit biased, but all the people I met (this also includes an accidental bus acquaintance) are very connected to nature and very interested in protecting what is there (by the way, Estonia has one of the highest proportion of protected areas in Europe).
These are my ten points (remember one counts double) why Estonia gets 10 out of 10.
In addition I have to say Estonia has beautiful landscapes, what makes it even better to do your research there.
What about your study area?
 blog entry about this will follow soonish