Recipe for a successful research trip…
…by Bérengère / from France / PhD Psychiatry / 5th Year
I’m back from my first research trip in Cambridge! I’ve been organising this trip for a few months, and I’ve learned so much I’ve decided to share my experience with you! Here are the dos and don’ts of a successful research trip!
There are so many reasons why you should plan a research trip during your PhD! In my case, this was to have a second assessment site to facilitate the recruitment for my study (it’s easier to get me to England for a few weeks than to get 15 English participants to Scotland), and to increase the sample size for my study. For my beloved flatmate Jess (who’s been dying to be mentioned in this blog- Hi Jess!) this was to collect data from a specific breed of Kenyan cows (her trips were in Kenya, mine in England. I’m not jealous.). You can also go to another lab to learn a new technique, or just to collaborate on a small project with other PhD students and early career researchers. A research trip is a great opportunity to see how other teams and other labs work, which will be very useful for your post-PhD life in academia. You get the chance to meet new people passionate about the same field, and to make new friends (with whom you’ll be able to work with one day maybe!). Also, the week-ends there might be the closest thing you’ll get to a holiday for the semester.
* Don’t wait for your supervisors to suggest a trip for you. Do actively look for a learning opportunity outside of your University.
Before the trip:
PLANNING AHEAD IS VITAL. I started organising my trip 4 months ahead, but I had to wait a while because of tutoring engagements, so the exact dates were decided on about 6 weeks ahead. And let me tell you, that was tight. As anticipated, there’s quite a lot of paperwork involved to get a shiny “visiting student” status at your host University, and that’s without counting the hidden paperwork your University has in store for you. In the end I got the last document 4 days before leaving. As the paperwork was not ready I couldn’t start recruiting participants neither. Over the last 2 weeks before leaving, I was so stressed out I even started wondering whether the benefits of the trip would ever balance out the amount of anxiety this trip organisation had generated (spoiler alert, the trip was a success and it was all completely worth it).
*Don’t organise a trip in 6 weeks. Do plan ahead as much as humanly possible.
During the trip:
The 3 weeks in Cambridge came and went in the blink of an eye. I had lived there before during my master 2, and I was so happy to see this gorgeous town again. Still, I was there on business, and my limited social skills and I had a lot to do. If, like me, your main task is to collect data, do take the time to do some (in my case dreaded) networking. I made new PhD student friends in my host department (I have been lucky to find a host PhD farm inhabited by smart, sweet and funny people, so much so that I even hugged them when I left. And you should know I don’t usually hug), attended their lab meeting and a talk organised there, but I also paid a visit to a team in a different department to present my work and discuss future conferences. I also made friends with other PhD students in that other team who work in the same (extremely) niche field as I do, and sharing our struggles and experiences made me feel so much better!
* Don’t be too focused on your main goal. Do keep an eye out for unexpected opportunities.
After the trip:
I feel so powered up! Cambridge does this to me every single time. Sure I wouldn’t live there, but there is something about that place that just boosts my curiosity and my motivation. Or maybe it’s all these fabulous people I’ve met. Or maybe it’s just that the trip has been extremely fruitful for my research. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much procrastinating on writing a paper (I was supposed to write months ago) by writing this blogpost, but I do feel like that trip was a well-timed and definitely-needed break from my PhD routine (past-me would have never admitted it, future-me will deny it as well. This is strictly between you and I). This trip was beneficial for my project while still allowing me some time to see other surroundings, other people, and breath.
*Don’t rush back into your project just yet. Do take a second to appreciate all the great things you’ve learned and all the great people you’ve met.
I had such a great time during this trip, and it has been so valuable for my project, my prospects, and my wellbeing, I cannot recommend enough the experience. Research trips do come with their share of stress and anxiety (I mean, is there anything in research that does not involve stress and anxiety?) but it is all worth it!
And you, what will your next research trip be?