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Flying less: Reflections on slower academic travel

The second blog post by Elina on her train journey to Lancaster and back. Here she shares some thoughts on slower academic travel and how to make the most of it.

Published onFeb 18, 2020
Flying less: Reflections on slower academic travel

So this is the second blog post that stems from my trip to Lancaster, where I was the external examiner for Kelly Widdicks dissertation, the first blog post is more of a travel journal. This time, I want to pen down some thoughts on slower academic travel and how you can make an academic visit more valuable.

My first reflection is that when the trip takes so long, I naturally felt that I wanted to stay longer. Had I been flying, I guess I could easily have come over the day, or maybe stayed only one night. And staying for a few more days made me want to fill the days with meaning.

Making it meaningful

So what is meaningful? This is a hard question. One thing I reflected on is that I wanted to be with the people at Lancaster. My host Mike Hazas had kindly booked a room for me to sit in, on my own, and work, which of course would make my work more efficient. But I wanted to socialise with the people at InfoLab, even if only meant sitting in the same room! But sitting in the same room meant that I was invited for coffee breaks and lunch more easily.

Another thing to make the trip more meaningful is that I offered to give a talk, either concerning research or our teaching, an offer that was readily accepted and which led to the Tuesday lunch seminar. I also did two workshops in related to the FLIGHT project, discussing academic flying. When planning, I also looked at what other universities would be ”nearby” and that I could visit. Hence my trip to Edinburgh over the day, because it was only 2 hours away by train. What I did not do, and partly regret, was to offer to give a talk to either university I visited in Edinburgh. With some more time for planning, this might have been a valuable thing, because more people could have engaged with me and my research.

After taking the train for 2 days to get to Lancaster, 2 hours to Edinburgh felt like nothing in comparison.

Sharing my travel plan

To plan my stay, I had started an open google-document, where anyone with a link could edit or comment. This meant that as the detailed planning of my trip was unfolding, different people interested in meeting me could see whether there were spots open for meeting up with me. I haven’t asked my hosts what they thought about it, but for me it reduced the amount of emails sent around. I could also note down addresses and phone numbers and have it all on one page for later reference when I was trying to find my way.

My last reflection concerns something I did not suggest, but that I have been considering after the trip. People at school of Computing and Communication at Lancaster got to know (some) of me when I gave a talk, but I never really got to know them, at least not what they did in terms of research. So here is a suggestion, maybe something we can implement next time we have a guest: to do a research speed-dating. The way I see this, is that all researchers (including phd-students) prepare a pecha-kucha presentation about themselves and their research. If the presentations are 9 slides long, 20 seconds each, this would mean 3 minutes per person. If the division one is visting isn’t too large, this could be feasible for a short presentation of the group. After this it will be easier to strike up spontaneous conversations regarding research.

How to make the most of academic travel

In summary, here is a list of things you can think of, when travelling or receiving a visitor to a research group:

  1. Make an open document where people can se your plans and make suggestions

  2. Suggest giving a talk regarding something you are working with

  3. Look at neighbouring universities, can you visit them as well?

  4. Try to borrow a desk among everyone else, or to sit in a place where many pass by

  5. Ask to get an overview of what people work with (for example through pecha-kucha)

  6. Make sure there are some social events

  7. Make sure you have some free time for more spontaneous meet-ups

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I believe this is a practice we need to develop, slower travel means perhaps more meaningful travel. Personally, I am so pleased with how this trip turned out, even though it was a very long journey.

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