Research Stay Abroad

The Research Stay Abroad: How to Prepare, Organise and Get Ready

by Veronika Schuchter


First of all, CONGRATULATIONS for wanting to embark on this adventure!

This post is coming to you from Calgary (Alberta, Canada) where I’m spending five weeks to do work in the archive of Aritha van Herk for my PhD thesis and post-doc project (always got to think ahead) and for a bit of affective conferencing. After that, I’ll return to Nottingham where I’ll continue to spend the upcoming year as a visiting scholar. I couldn’t recommend long and short time research stays abroad more highly. It is scary, yes, but the rewards will be greater than you can ever imagine.  Don’t think, just do it – you can!

Here are some of my tips if you are thinking of venturing out:

Where do you want to go, why is it important for your project and/or your development as a young scholar?

Think about this one carefully. Will this stay make all the difference? In what way will it enhance your project? Why this particular university/library/archive? These are all questions to be considered especially because you will have to explain to others why this undertaking is absolutely crucial for the very best execution of your doctoral project.

Even if you simply want to get away (fair enough and also an excellent reason), you will have to answer vis-á-vis your university and funding bodies.

Do you know anyone at your desired institution or know someone who knows someone who knows someone?

As in probably most other walks of life, contacts are crucial. Have a close look at the departmental website to see whether any faces seem familiar – perhaps you’ve met someone at a conference or some other academic gathering? Do you know any of the PhD students? Do you know faculty at your own institution who might have ties with someone at that university, that library, that archive or that city? Don’t hesitate to ask a number of people – the difference it makes if someone introduces you rather than you randomly emailing that person who’s never heard of you is absolutely crucial.

Does your university have partner institutions?

This might be the most important factor to consider. Most universities will have partners across Europe and the world. This ensures a smoother bureaucratic process and might also mean that you won’t have to shell out on exorbitant (library and auditing) fees – something you need to be aware of and extremely careful about. I’ve always been highly suspicious of universities who charge an absolute fortune for short stays. It will absolutely depend on your funds, of course, but do always think of alternatives – there might be a similar institution out there who won’t charge you and will gladly host you for free. Explore all alternatives!

Can you get funding?

Money is an important, perhaps the most important, factor. If you are only planning on a short research stay, this means that you will still have to pay rent at home but will also have to sustain yourself abroad at the same time, not to speak of travel costs especially if you’d like to travel overseas. Do check with your university, literary organisations and other funding bodies. As always, communication is crucial – connect with peers who’ve already done it, don’t be shy and drop them an email. I’m sure that if it were you, you’d also be happy to help them out.

Ensure, if you are funded through your uni or a different scheme, that your source of income allows you to consume your monies from a place other than your home base – some grants can be extremely funny about this (speaking from bitter experience).

Also check big funding schemes: get on the Erasmus train before Brexit takes it all away. The Erasmus staff exchange is a great and easy way to get away for a week or so to do funded teaching and outreach in another country.

Put in an application (if possible)

Be confident, own it and most of all be proud of your work! Enthusiasm is contagious.

Prepare in advance!

Study the department website religiously. Who are the people you want to talk to? Email them way ahead of your stay to let them know you’re coming; not just senior staff but especially PhD students (they are your peers and might be help you out – always remember that it is their department and they might have good contacts, especially in connection to their supervisors).

Be polite, enthusiastic and precise in your email: why do you want to talk to them? What is your research about? How does your and their research intersect? Keep it short and simple – this is the way to success. I tend to draft emails way in advance and spend a lot of time on phrasing and let them sit for a few days if it is super important – this is time consuming but not to be underestimated – a good email already tells them a lot about your work ethic and commitment.

Once there, take it all in and cherish every second!

A dear friend of mine told me to think of Leonardo DiCaprio in that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where he completely empties himself in preparation for the trip of his life. This is a metaphor, obviously. Empty yourself and then take it all in and as much as you can.