Researcher Abroad

Back in September, I got my first ever research grant 🙂 It was an Early Career International Collaboration Scheme award, supported by the BPS Developmental Section, and it was to fund me for a short, international research visit. April seemed like ages away then, but it really wasn’t, and the past two weeks have seen my first longer-than-a-conference research trip abroad. I went to the Universita di Padova, to work with Gianluca Gini, and his research team. I took off with quite a lot of the trepidation that goes with embarking on something new, but now, I don’t want it to be over. The time flew by, and I’d happily go again.

Having had my first experience of this kind of trip, I’m going to use this post to make some recommendations for your first PhD or post-doc trip away to a university (because you absolutely should try it).

5. Find out where you are going before you leave home. Do that research, and write everything out with old-fashioned pen and paper. I thought I was being so organised, having multiple maps stored in Safari bookmarks, only to find when I arrived in Padova, that there was no wi-fi connection anywhere that I could see near the railway station, and I could barely remember the road where I was heading (or the road that the Department of Psychology was on).

4. Learn some Italian or [insert other relevant language here] before you arrive. I’m OK with languages. Particularly Latinate ones. And I thought I’d be OK, given that, simply knowing the basic basics – ” please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”. But, as Padova isn’t a central tourist destination, it would have been helpful to have come equipped with more. To be able to buy a train ticket, order in a cafe, ask which lane was meant for the slow swimmers….Then there was that moment when a colleague’s four-year-old was trying to learn English colour names. She first of all presented me with a pink pen. At which I excitedly exclaimed “rosa!”, this being the only colour name I could give in Italian. The way she then laughed out loud at that point said it all…..

3. Give a research talk. Even if it is arranged at the last minute (I am told this is typical in Italy…) and only a handful of people turn up. It was about quality not quantity of the audience. My research was novel to those who did show up, and there was a useful half-hour discussion, too, during which I got some insightful and time-saving advice.

2. Be realistic in your work plan. I was lucky here. I managed to achieve what I said I would in my application, and had a weekend free to explore the city. But that was done through working full days while I was away, and I’m not sure I could have cracked that pace for much longer (maybe I underestimated how tiring simply being somewhere different would be….). I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect data in that space of time – but I didn’t reckon on quite so many relevant papers having come out since I last checked, for me to go through, to plan out new research materials. I guess, if I had realised, I could have done more reading before I left home. I also find it reassuring to be leaving Padova with a follow-up plan for doing the research, and writing it up. 🙂

1. Be friendly with as many people at the university as possible. It’s a great way to get useful advice and information, when you’re stuck not being able to speak the local language (not that you will be), and you begin to discover the world really isn’t that big a place after all. I saw someone on the corridor who I hadn’t seen for three years, and didn’t know she was still in Padova. And a Fulbright scholar sharing my office turned out to share similar interests to me, and it was lovely to spend some of our spare time together (and she knew where all the best gelati-retailers were in town 🙂 ) It’s all about networking and setting up new collaborations, after all, and who knows who you might be sharing your desk with…

Here’s hoping that I’ve persuaded you that it is a worthwhile (and fun!) thing to do. You can see info. about, and apply for, the specific grant I got at:   I’m going to check how long I need to leave it before I can apply again…..

Thank you Developmental Section 🙂


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