Eonyang Amethyst Caves

This weekend we went up to the so-called Yeognam Alps near Eonyang to see the amethyst caverns. It was once an amethyst mine that his since been converted into a tourist attraction. It shares a mountain with a Buddhist temple (see below) which was very scenic, we could hear monks singing too. The view of the mountains is quite impressive, especially in the autumn.

First, we went on a boat ride through the caves, it was quite short and there wasn’t a lot to see. Then we explored the rest of caverns on foot. Once you’re inside the caverns you follow a route around and there were various exhibits, including some samples of amethysts and mannequins dressed like miners. There were some strange exhibits too, such as the ancient Egypt exhibit and the Dokdo hall (Dodko is disputed group of small islands between Korea and Japan). There are some impressive decorations and photo opportunities to be found while you walk around (see below). The highlight of the trip was the performance area in the middle of the cave. We saw two shows, one guy playing the drums, while his partner cut up taffy in time with drumming. The other was a show by some gymnasts and a contortion artist. Overall, I’d say the cavern and the surrounding area are worth seeing but don’t get your hopes up too high about the cavern itself.

Since we were in Eonyang, we stopped off at a restaurant for some Eonyang bulgogi. Eonyang Bulgogi is ground beef that has been seasoned with garlic and sesame and then grilled, the key requirement is that it should be served within 24 hours of the meat being butchered. We also got some ‘beef sushi’ as service; the meat was very tender, but there was too much wasabi which overpowered everything else. It was a very enjoyable meal nonetheless.Beef sushi

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How to get a job as a postdoc in South Korea

Traveling from the West to the Asia is not the typical postdoc route, but there are opportunities to be found in the far east.

Travelling from the west to the far east is not the typical postdoc experience so there aren’t that many established routes. You don’t often see Korean universities posting on job boards for example.

Despite the high level of education in South Korea, they have a manpower shortage for PhD level chemists. This is beneficial for two reasons: Firstly, it’s likely that a prospective PI has money to hire you, particularly if they are established. Secondly, the financial compensation is much better than it would be in most cases in the US or Europe. There will be a later post on the cost of living in Korea and how that compares to the West.

Here is a step-by-step guide to how I got a job in Korea.

Application

The Institute for Basic Science is a Korean government-funded research institute centered in Daejeon but has campuses all over Korea. It currently has 26 centers, each with a specialization, these centers are given an annual budget (so they don’t have to worry about applying for external funding) and are headed by a world leader in the field. There are several ways in which one can join the IBS. They have a job board, a young scientist scheme, and a talent pool where you can upload your CV. Indeed, this is the route I went down. If you have a group in mind it may well be worth an email and see what they say. There are several other research funding sources in Korea, so even if they are not an IBS center they may well still be able to support you.  When selecting a group, one thing I would recommend is looking at how many international students or postdocs there are, or have recently been, in the group. Many groups conduct their business in English, but it’s not always the case. You’ll probably have more luck and, ultimately, a better experience if it’s a group that is experienced in hosting international researchers.

Interview.

Soon after uploading my CV I was contacted by the IBS center I now work at, and we arranged a Skype interview. The interview process was much like a western one, i.e. there was a presentation of previous research and questions associated with that, career aspirations etc. Don’t be surprised if you get asked more personal questions, such as age and marital status. After the interview, they asked for a letter of recommendation and after they collected those I was offered a position soon after.

Visa process.

Researchers are granted an E3 (research) visa, these are very straightforward to acquire once you have a job offer from an institution in Korea. The research institute will likely handle most of it for you. It is certainly the case with the IBS. The only thing that you need to supply is copies of your qualification certificates; there is no background or criminal record checks for the E3 visa. Your employer will apply for your visa issuance number which you then put on your visa application form and apply at an embassy, usually in your home country. Another consideration is that, unless you are married to a Korean, spouses can’t work on a spouse visa; they will need their own.

Housing

I can only speak for the university I work at it but it seems to be quite normal for the university to offer on-campus housing. If this is the case, then your host university will take care of that.

That’s the process that I went through if you have any questions about it, feel free to reach out!