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How We Become Digital Nomads…with PhDs

Let’s just dispense with the subtleties, and get right to it; by most people’s definition we are crazy.

If you are the type of person who prefers templates, clearly marked trials, conformity, movies with predictable endings, pop music and the like, it will be much easier for you to digest the following information if you just keep this notion in the background: these people are mentally unhinged.

Don’t believe me?

Then continue reading.

Us having a jumping contest in the salt flats of Bolivia. The winner is obvious;)

How we came to be PhD Nomads

With the initial intent of becoming tenured professors at prestigious research universities, we spent a ton of time and effort, made countless sacrifices, and amassed 2 bachelor’s, 1 master’s, and 2 doctorates between the two of us within a combined 2 decades of university education.

Disenchanted with our potential careers and lives as professors/scientists, we began saying ‘no’ to all the projects/jobs/opportunities to which we previously, albeit begrudgingly, said ‘yes’. We sold all our belongings, and traveled through South America until we ran out of money.

Overeducated and broke; quite the cliché, right?

After semi-voluntarily returning to Canada, we lived with my folks for a couple of months and tried to find employment that would allow us to capitalize on our academic/scientific skills without tying us down to a tenure-track professor position (the goldmine for those on the academic treadmill).

So, not only were we refusing to look for work for which we were most qualified, we were also living with my parents in the suburbs of a town affectionately referred to as the Dirty ‘Shwa – this more than anything should be a testament to our mental instability.

Once we made a few bucks doing freelance medical writing work, we moved out of my parent’s home with a bag of clothes, our 2 laptops, a box of books, and my guitar – all transported in my malfunction-prone ’98 Acura Integra.

Instead of doing the regular ritual of signing a 12-month lease on a property, getting furniture to fill said place, and settling down, we opted to sublet a furnished home.

Rather than getting a regular job, I continued to work remotely as a medical writer, essentially spending 100% of my working time doing the one thing that first got me into and subsequently pulled me through graduate school: writing about science. As my freelance work started to pick up, actual ‘sitting at a desk in an office, reporting to a boss, attending meetings, and commuting’ job offers came in. Despite the unpredictability of the freelance employment situation, I turned down everything that came along.

What the *&%# was I thinking, right?

Well, once you start making an income while sitting in your pajamas in the comfort of your temporary home, it’s tough to even contemplate going back to a structured work environment. So I declined interviews for positions I would have previously killed for. After every “Thanks, but no thanks” response, I sat in shock while Marina assured me that we were doing the right thing. During the process, Marina distanced herself from her regular university gig as a professor and research facilitator, and also became a freelance medical writer.

Another day at the office...

Today we remain as flexible and untethered as we’ve ever been. We attain this flexibility by not owning any property or furniture, not buying things that might tie us down, and generally being elusive in terms of a permanent residence.

For the foreseeable future we are taking a workation – that is, slowly traveling the world by living for 1-4 months in each location, while continuing to work remotely.

Why are we doing this?

Life is relatively short.

We refuse to spend our best years chasing the American dream, doing the 9-5 grind, accumulating unnecessary products to keep up with the Joneses, remedying our misery with hours of reality television, and conforming to the status quo, all the while living an unexamined life.

Instead, our lives are driven by this very simple notion:

“You’re sitting with your grandchildren on your lap telling them about your exploits. What stories are you telling them?”

In other words, we want to live a life that becomes a story worth telling.

Still think we’re nuts?

If you’d like to follow our adventure, please sign up for regular updates via email or RSS!

Peter and Marina


G Adventures

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10 thoughts on “How We Become Digital Nomads…with PhDs”

  1. If you decide to go against the social norms and what society thinks you should do then people (friends, family, strangers) will always think you're nuts.

    You sound happier (and most importantly more excited by life) by doing what you're doing now.

    So keep it up Peter and Marina!

  2. Wow! That's all pretty crazy. It's so awesome that you guys have PhDs though. I think it's perfectly understandable that you're doing all of this. After all that work you deserve at least 5 years off! And i'm pretty sure that every PhD student it virtually broke right out of school anyway.

    I hope you guys enjoy living in Montreal! :D

  3. Thanks, Cam! Much appreciated. And a hat tip in your direction for doing the same ;) BTW – Marina and I may be heading to Vancouver in 2012 for a few months. I will keep you updated; would love to meet up with you guys.

  4. @Seattle Thanks for stopping by and for your support! While we weren't completely broke right our of grad school – we certainly achieved that by the time we finished a few months in South America:) Now to be fair, although it may sound like we are taking "time off" we have been working pretty hard over the past 6 months or so – we want to achieve a nice balance between work/play, all the while moving around the world. As you can imagine, no part of the world is going to be much fun if we are both permanently tethered to our computers! I figure that by this time next year, this will all be routine and I'll know how much work to take on etc.

    BTW – I love the idea of the VIA rail cross-country ride. Marina and I were discussing when we could follow in your steps and pull that off as well.

  5. @Mustafa Excellent point. I once had a colleague tell me the following in regards to one's research: "If you're not pissing someone off, you're clearly doing something wrong." This could also apply to lifestyle choices. That is my litmus test moving forward: if everyone around me stops questioning and doubting my sanity, it is time to switch things up again!

  6. Hi Tran!

    We actually tried to find some house sitting gigs, but had no luck. We did get an awesome furnished place in the Plateau for a reasonable price so we’re still happy. Free would have certainly been better, though!

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