By Sarah Griffiths
My New Year’s resolution this year was to get out of Bristol for a bit. I love living in Bristol and enjoy my PhD research, which is what brought me to the city in the first place. But the weather was pretty miserable in January and, after a year and a half, perhaps I was starting to take the place for granted. I decided that it would be a good time to look into some of the great opportunities there are to travel in academia.
I had heard that it was possible to get funding to visit a foreign university through the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) during your PhD. The WUN is an association of 16 universities around the world who have decided to cooperate to promote international research collaboration. I looked at the research that was being done at each of these universities to see if any fitted with my PhD topic and found Face Lab at the University of Western Australia. Face Lab, I learned, was doing some fascinating research on the nature of emotional expression coding in typical development and in autism. Perth also looked like a pretty fun place to spend some time so I decided to apply.
I got in touch with Professor Gill Rhodes who leads Face Lab and asked if she would have me for a visit for a few months and she kindly agreed. I then went ahead and filled in the application form. This involved writing a research proposal, including details of how the exchange would benefit the university and myself. Additionally I was to submit a CV and supporting statements from my supervisor and the Head of School in Bristol, and Gill at UWA. There are two calls for applications a year: one in February, which I went for, and one in November. A few months later I heard that my application had been accepted and I was going to be spending 3 months in Perth in the autumn!
I’ve now been in Perth for 2 weeks and I’m so glad that I decided to come. The people I have met both in the University and out have been incredibly friendly and helpful. I’ve found accommodation in a great area in a complex that has a pool (!) Everyday I get to cycle along the river to the university, looking out for dolphins that supposedly live there.
I’ve also found that working in a different lab has renewed my interest in research. A change of environment and the opportunity to discuss new ideas with experts you wouldn’t otherwise meet is a great remedy for any mid-PhD disenchantment. Here I’m working on a project about recognition of emotion in a crowd of faces. This is a topic that is complimentary to my PhD research but different enough to be new and exciting. I hope that when I return to Bristol I will bring back new ideas and fresh enthusiasm to my PhD, as well as a tan! I will let you know in 10 weeks time. In the meantime, if this has inspired you to take part in some “academic tourism” (as one other WUN funded visitor I met this week called it), the next deadline for the WUN researcher mobility funding is in 7th of November so get applying!
Sarah is a PhD student in TARG researching emotion recognition in children with autism spectrum disorder. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahGriff90 and see her academic profile on the University of Bristol website.