Returning to Thailand 101: A Guide for Thai Scholars

What I've learned on navigating the academic system in Thailand: from delaying job starts to building professional networks, there's a strategy to ease into the role and make the most of your academic journey.

Returning to Thailand 101: A Guide for Thai Scholars
Generated with a prompt "A picture of scientists graduating from abroad with a background of traditional Thailand scene."

This mark a little over two years since I moved back to Thailand. I'm at this point in my career where I started to get the flow of the academic system in Thailand. I'd like to use this space as my milestone to pass on what I've learned in the past two years. My goal is to help new Thai scholars who just moved back, or those who are still struggling, navigate their career so that it's less painful.

This current post is specific to my experience as a Ph.D. grad from the US, who has to come back and work in Rajabhat University system (Nakhon Ratchasima to be specific). So, your mileage may vary.

  • Delay starting your position as much as possible. Don't rush into the new job. Travel. Be with your family and friends. Explore new hobbies. Enjoy the time after graduation as long as (financially) possible. This is your last long vacation.
  • Find some ways to earn extra cash during this time. I tried tutoring and freelance writing. At least, get your momentum going. Once you start the position, it's extremely hard to stop and think.
  • Get your finances in order. Assuming your position is in academic, sooner or later you'll start complaining about your salary, especially when comparing to where you got your degree. Bad news, because of the contract, you'll stuck here for a little while. Good news, you're smart. Find something you relatively enjoy outside of academia, that pays (I did freelance writing on Fastwork).
  • Join TYSA. This it where you'll meet cool people and think about bigger picture of younger generation of researchers (like yourself).
  • Spend ~a month getting to know as many as possible outside of your program/department, especially the supporting staffs. They can make your life at your new workplace wonderful or miserable.
  • Spend ~a semester to teach with your full effort. I know the students won't listen to your as much. They'll always be shy when you ask questions. You'll feel disappointed, but this will be the main coping mechanism you can tell everyone that you've already given your best.
  • Minimize personal interaction among the colleagues, keep it extremely professional. You are here to work. Send off that message quick and clear. You'll get a chance to fraternize later. But delaying it allows you use gauge who you can trust.
  • Get your self into a type of project where your workplace has been specialized in. Unless you are in the national labs, or the large research universities, chances are that your school focuses on teaching/local developing (Rajabhat) or technical teaching (Rajamangakala)
  • Don't forget your main expertise (piggybag from the previous point). You'll come back to it later. I studied semiconductors and generative AI from CalTech. Of course, it'll be best for the country if I can continue my frontier research, but it's not the time yet. So you have to work with whatever your university is specialized. It'll help you speak the same language as your colleagues.
The point here is to keep you really want to do (frontier research?) as your long term goal, while making your career enjoyable.
  • Try to get involve with university projects (outside of the faculty level). If you're in small local universities (RU, RMUT), then it's easier to do comparing to large universities. Turn it to your advantage.
  • For the first year and a half (says after passing the probation period), say YES to EVERYTHING. Otherwise, people will stop asking you to join their projects in the future. Inside or outside your affiliation, doesn't matter.
  • After a year and a half, say NO to almost everything that doesn't align with your goal. You should still say yes to new opportunities if it helps you meet cool people (my choice of word for people who actually do the work and think about their work).
  • Exercise. Sleep. Other folks enter workforce and get busy early in their 20s where their body are still young and quick to recover. You don't have that luxury. Most of us are in 30s. Get enough sleep and exercise often. Otherwise, your body will age really fast especially when combined with the stress from work.

-- Pai.