Spending time researching overseas during your PhD
by Jesslynn Ooi
If your supervisors have recommend you spend time in a overseas lab during your PhD, this isn't an indication that they want to get rid of you but that they want you to broaden your horizons and research skills. Time spent in an overseas laboratory can be very rewarding both culturally and scientifically.
If you have been lucky enough to be offered this opportunity, congratulations, this blog post is for you! If you haven't, this article will also point you in the direction of resources for overseas visits.
(1) Find a suitable lab and convince your supervisor
First things first! If you are considering conducting part of your PhD research in an overseas lab, speak to your supervisor. Generally, supervisors are very supportive of such initiatives but will always be concerned about the bottom line, money! You've already conducted your literature review and you know what work is out there and thus, you should know where the best research in your field is being conducted (apart from in your own lab of course!). Discuss with your supervisor how spending time in chosen lab will 'value add' to your degree and how you might fund such a period of research. If your supervisor is supportive, he may already know or want to work with the lab you have suggested. If this is the case, you then need to pester him into contacting the potential host and agree on a co-supervisory plan for the project.
(2) Plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of your visit!
As an early career researcher, an overseas “sabbatical” is a rewarding and mentally stimulating experience, and brings with it a set of its own unique benefits. Research overseas will give you the unique opportunity to meet world class researchers as well as a chance to share your research, discuss new projects and learn from and collaborate with your overseas colleagues. As I refrain from delving into a 15 minute polemic about the benefits of research overseas (you’re already convinced), the question is how can I make the most of my time overseas? Here are some points to consider if you have not already:
- Project Goals – Have an idea of what you want to achieve from your sabbatical over the complete stay, and ideally at monthly intervals. Your goals may vary depending on where you are in your PhD. You may want to take on a risk by trying a new idea or new technique, but have a contingency if the unexpected occurs!
- Time is not a flexible commodity! - time will pass by quickly, whether it be a one month or 1 year research stint. Typically all research calls for careful planning but in this instance planning is crucial. Allow time to familiarise yourself with people and equipment.
- Keep your supervisors at home updated - Keep your supervisors back at base updated regularly on your progress. If you run into trouble (scientific progress or otherwise) they can help! Distance is not an excuse. Use Skype, Facebook or just call in!
- Research Awareness - Find out what kind of research is happening around you – especially from within your designated research group. This kind of awareness could seed collaboration and future job opportunities!
(3) Fully experience your new environment
A visit overseas is not just an opportunity to conduct great research but also twill give you exposure to new social networks and cultures.
- Be Socially Proactive – One of the first things I did was jump on a UCL cruise at the time when I knew nobody. Least to say I’m very glad I went as I got to know students and staff more quickly! Spending time in an overseas lab can be stressful but also culturally and socially rewarding.
- Local Conferences – are potential places to present your work. Keep an eye out for them as you will save on travelling expenses when applying from your host university/company.
A visit to an overseas lab can seem a daunting experience at first. However, you will never forget your visit, the colleagues and networks you build and the skills you gain.
Jesslynn Ooi is a PhD student in the final year of her PhD at the University of Sydney. She has been the successful recipient of both a European FP7 overseas collaboration award and a postgraduate Endeavour fellowship. Jesslynn's research is in the ares of physical chemistry, colloidal and surface science.