At the start of this month I went to De Montfort University for a research visit. My mentor suggested that as an early career researcher (ECR) going on a visit could be good for my career development, something which I had not considered before during my PhD or fledgling academic career. I was fortunate that there was an ideal research centre to go to in relation to my research interests (the reproduction research group at DMU) and so the opportunity to spend a fortnight with another research centre developed.
However going on a visit clearly requires time away from your role and thankfully my team and school supported me in doing this. I also had funding for career development which enabled me to go away for this two week spell. There are therefore constraints on the ECR looking looking to go on a visit to another institution or organisation and I’m well aware that the idea of a research visit for those more precariously situated may indeed feel like a luxury rather than an achievable goal. That said, the practicalities and benefits of a visit are still perhaps worth discussing.
- Going for two weeks, from my role, to another university certainly required some ‘freeing’ of my time, both in terms of enabling me to maximise my time when I was going to be away but also in terms of trying to manage my other projects, commitments and workload. I did pretty well in the before period, but certainly felt the ‘been away’ on my return, in part due to planning on my part I suspect. I found having my out of office on whilst I was away saying where I was perhaps helped with managing my absence, as well as preparing others that I wouldn’t be around which did perhaps help manage emails etc from not being sent whilst I was away.
- Think about what you might work on. I had a few ideas in mind for projects whilst I was away on my visit and that really helped me to maximise my time and feel like I had spent the visit being productive. I was also mindful that for me a lot of the useful ‘stuff’ of being an academic happens on the margins, and lets be honest, over coffees, and whilst chatting, so I didn’t overcommit myself to a particular schedule whilst I was away. I was glad that I hadn’t done that as I found the discussions, the sharing of ideas, hearing about people’s work, and thinking about links one of the most refreshing and ultimately beneficial parts of the visit.
- I found I could get a lot more work done when I didn’t have any life admin to do. Living in a hotel and dining out might not work for longer research visits, but for a short stay consider your options for where you’ll stay. The freedom to focus on your work during a research visit without the constraints of ‘normal’ life can be fantastic, it certainly allowed me to focus in on what I was doing and to think and breathe and be a sociologist in every sense, rather than it being something that occurred during working hours.
- I found the research visit experience reinvigorating academically; in part due to being with amazing people who were doing deeply interesting work, and the environment suited me, but it was the immersive experience of having time to just think about my work and research which really helped. That feeling lasted after I returned to ‘reality’.
- I met some amazing people. This applies on a personal and a professional level. I have met new collaborators and have plans to develop work with those I met, and feel like its been a way of opening a door between the work of my institution and theirs, and that is a really positive development, especially at ECR level where building networks and links can be really really difficult.
- It’s really useful to see how other people and places operate. There is little point in trying to reinvent the wheel, so being able to see how other places or people work is really useful. Seeing how a seminar programme and reading group can function, and its value for the culture and feel of a place was really important learning for me, and something I hope can be ‘brought back’ to my institution.
- It was a great way to share my work in a safe environment. I’m new to reproductive research, whilst I’ve been doing research for a while now, my work on infertility is new, and it was really heartening and confidence building to share that with others who ‘get’ the nuances of that field and its made me feel more impassioned about the work after the visit and hungry to learn more and do more which stems from a growth in confidence.
So, my main advice? If you have the chance t0 go on a research visit to somewhere interesting? Then take the opportunity if you can! If you cant go for a week, two weeks or more, maybe see if you can go and visit somewhere whilst you are already in a different location for a conference or a meeting. I think as ECR we may sometimes be worried about all the things we feel we ‘have’ to do and are often busy, heads down trying to produce great work, but looking out, and connecting with others can be a hugely beneficial experience and could be useful both professionally and personally.