America’s 50 states are endlessly diverse, encompassing arid deserts, rugged coastlines, rolling plains and ancient forests. Sophisticated cities like New York and Boston are world-renowned higher education hubs, while specialist research institutes can be found across the country.
Realistically, as a PhD student you could find yourself based anywhere in the USA – we’ll do our best to sum up what makes the United States such a great place to study and live.
Culture and tourism
Thanks to Hollywood, we’re all pretty familiar with what the USA has to offer tourists. Iconic sights like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and Niagara Falls are among the most visited natural attractions in the world, while Disneyland(s), the glitz of Las Vegas and the lively back-alleys of New Orleans represent less sedate ways to experience America.
The USA is blessed with countless significant cultural institutions, galleries and museums, and it would be impossible to do them justice here. New York City alone has the cutting-edge MoMA, the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art and the spellbinding American Museum of Natural History.
Of course, the USA is a relatively young country but you can experience its revolutionary past in vibrant cities like Boston and Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Washington DC has a world-class collection of museums with several excellent universities and research institutes.
Sport and leisure
Sport is inescapable in America – especially at its universities, many of which boast huge stadiums that rival (or even eclipse!) the biggest ‘soccer’ stadiums over the pond in Europe.
American football, ice hockey, baseball, basketball. . . wherever you study your PhD, it’s likely that you’ll be able to adopt a nearby sports team and maybe even give it a go first-hand. If you’re unsure of the rules, friendly locals will usually be more than happy to explain what everything means.
In terms of non-competitive leisure activities, everything depends on the region you’re living in. You could go hiking in the Pacific Northwest’s lush rainforests, experience New England’s glorious autumnal leaves or camp out in the woods of upstate New York. Over on the West Coast, give surfing a go and catch some gnarly Californian waves (in between long stints in the lab, of course). The Rocky Mountains are renowned for snowboarding and skiing, while the Florida Keys are perfect for scuba-diving.
Food and drink
American cuisine is a reflection of the country’s diverse nature, taking inspiration from the immigrants – past and present – that have made America their home. The Chicago deep-pan style of pizza is a product of Italian-Americans, while Tex-Mex food is heavily influenced by Mexican delicacies.
Up in New England, you can try out clam chowder and freshly-caught lobster. Twin Peaks fans shouldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy a slice of cherry pie with a pipin’ hot cup of joe at a quaint roadside diner in Washington state.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that attitudes to alcohol vary widely across the States and may be quite different to what you’re used to back home. The minimum age for the consumption of alcohol is 21, although unless you’re a child prodigy this probably won’t affect you. Many states have strict curfews for the sale of alcohol. And, if you’re at a bar, it’s important to tip the bartender at least a dollar per drink!