20. Overseas institutional visits

Many funding bodies for PhD students (including the ESRC) offer students the opportunity to take an ‘overseas institutional visit’ (OIV) as part of their studies. Through this scheme, I have spent three months at a university in Ontario, Canada (fully paid for by the ESRC). In this blog, I outline exactly what an OIV entails, and reflect on the challenges and opportunities it has created.

Basically, an OIV is an opportunity to work in a different institution usually for between 1 and 3 months, similar to a visiting lectureship. You will be expected to continue working on your PhD during the visit, but the idea is that you get to meet and work with new people (hopefully experts in your field) and can further refine ideas. There’s often an opportunity to publish with someone at the new institution (I have a co-authored paper which will be published soon), as well as chances to present your work to new audiences, and engage with new people.

My curling debut

During my time in Canada, I visited 6 different institutions to meet experts in my field and to present in conferences and workshops. I have greatly increased the size of my ‘academic network’, and the fact that I now have a large network in a different country can only be helpful when it comes to job hunting. I have significantly improved my first empirical chapter and made great headway on my second. Having the opportunity to work alongside one of the world’s leading experts on nurse migration was amazing – from invaluable comments on my work, to new ideas for future writing, and access to her extensive collection of relevant books. It’s probably going to take me an extra month to read everything I collected, but it’s going to massively increase the quality of my final thesis, and of any other papers I publish.

A conference I helped organise

I also got the chance to travel around parts of Canada, using my weekends to explore my new temporary home, and taking time before and after conferences to shop, eat, drink, and sightsee in the various towns and cities I ended up in. I went to my first (ice) hockey game, had a go at curling, and ate all the poutine and maple syrup I could.

Me at Niagara Falls

Overall, my experience was excellent and something I would strongly recommend to all students moving towards their final year. However, there are some words of caution. Moving to a new place on such a temporary purpose can mean that your social life suffers. It is difficult, and often more expensive to find accommodation for shorter periods of time, and the difficulty is increased as you have to search for accommodation online. The institution you visit may not have a place where you can work with other postgraduates (I was lucky in that I did, but colleagues have not had this luxury), and even if you are placed in a postgrad community, you ‘jump’ in mid-way through the year and leave just as quickly. The short length also means you’re thrown into the deep end. When I moved to the Philippines for 6 months for data collection, I used the first 2 weeks to ‘acclimatise’. I arrived in Canada on a Saturday afternoon and was given my induction at 9:00 am on Monday. On top of this, visas, healthcare, etc. can all get a bit confusing with such a short visit.

So my advice? Do an OIV if you have a chance. Especially if you plan on staying in academia. However, be prepared – it’s not all plain sailing, and socially, you may find yourself rather isolated.