Hester Hockin-Boyers: Overseas Institutional Visit to Adelaide, Australia

In Case Studies by General Account


My OIV to the University of Adelaide

I am a third year PhD student in the department of Sociology/Sport and Exercise Science at Durham University. From early February I completed a 6 week overseas institutional visit to the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

The Application
The first thing I did in my application process was made a ‘wishlist’ of overseas researchers I would love the opportunity to meet and work with. Professor Megan Warin (University of Adelaide) was at the top of my list and so I reached out over email. I kept the main body of the email short and snappy (senior academics are very busy and so it’s in your best interest to get straight to the point!) introducing myself and in the attachments included my CV and a brief summary of my research. Fortunately, Megan was happy to host the visit and we had a brief exchange regarding my objectives for the visit. I then set about writing my application…

In general, I found the application paperwork really straightforward, however I have a few pro-tips for making this as convincing and well-thought out as possible:

1. Make a timetable of the activities you are planning to undertake to include as an additional document- this will give the DTP a clear understanding of how you imagine spending your OIV. This is especially useful if you are asking for a deadline extension, as it will account for time spent away from the PhD.

2. If you are going to a country which is more expensive to live in, include a clear financial justification for subsistence by demonstrating cost differences in everyday expenses (e.g. groceries). Websites like numbeo and expatistan will tell you if you qualify for these additional funds:
a. Numbeo Cost of Living
b. Expatistan Cost of Living

3. Try to include in your application the potential to make links and expand your network outside of the university that is hosting you. A big reason for choosing to visit Adelaide was that there are three big universities in the city, all with researchers in my area who I wanted to make contact with. In my application I specified who I planned to reach out to and how meeting these researchers would enrich my research and my visit.

The Overseas Institutional Visit
The visit itself was fantastic! After a long 24 hours of travelling I arrived at Adelaide airport and Megan kindly picked me up to take me to my Airbnb. Here took place our first bonding experience. The instructions I had received from my Airbnb host weren’t the clearest and we mistakenly spent the first 10 minutes knocking (gently at first, then aggressively) at the house next door. We realised our error when we found a note on the next door saying my Airbnb host had gone to bed and I could let myself in- but there was no key. We ended up opening her mail, believing the key to be inside. It wasn’t. We eventually found the key, apologised about the mail, and all was well!

Pro tip: The Airbnb I stayed in was run by a woman and her young daughter. I had a room in the house and we shared communal spaces (kitchen, living room, bathroom). I would really recommend staying somewhere shared or with some form of communal living. When I first arrived in Australia and didn’t know anyone, it was so nice to come home to some form of family life. This also helps when trying to suss out your local area as they will likely have lots of recommendations of places to go/food to eat!

The main aims of my OIV were to disseminate my research, begin work on grant idea I had (involving clinical partners), start writing a joint publication with Megan and get a tan! In my first few weeks I reached out to researchers at the University of Adelaide and beyond to set up meetings and schedule seminars for dissemination activities. I also met with Megan at least once a week to discuss potential collaboration on an output.

Pro tip: I came to Australia with an article idea which drew on both of our (mine and Megan’s) expertise already sketched out. Because of this forward planning, when I got to Adelaide, I pitched the idea to Megan and we were able to push ahead to the drafting phase.

I also spent the time away from teaching duties and departmental responsibilities to think ahead to what the potential impact of my PhD could be and how this could form the basis for a grant application. I found this kind of work incredibly difficult to undertake on top of the regular day to day life of the PhD when in Durham, as most of my time was spent keeping the research ticking over. The OIV gave me space from the PhD to develop these ideas, as well as get feedback from different stakeholders.
As well as benefitting from the activities I had explicitly planned, I also found it hugely insightful and rewarding to spend time at an overseas institution with its own unique culture, practices and feel. I was given a desk and a computer in a postgraduate research office in the department where I was based. This gave me the opportunity to meet other PhD students and make friends. I also attended various research seminars and departmental events, which allowed me to make connections and experience research life at the institution.

Unfortunately, around 3 weeks into my visit the seriousness of Covid-19 became clear. For a while this didn’t affect my OIV, as Australia was quite far behind Europe in terms of cases, and people were carrying on their lives as normal. However, at around 6 weeks in I decided to make the journey home. The NINE DTP were so responsive to the challenges this posed, and I felt incredibly supported as I went about arranging travel to the UK. Sadly, due to the abrupt changes in circumstances, I was not able to do everything I had planned for my OIV. However, overall it was a wonderfully rewarding and enriching experience. I would really encourage anyone who is interested in building their network, experiencing life at an oversea institution, or pursuing new avenues in their research to apply!