Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology
Sergio has made some contacts with researchers abroad, and this has proven very fruitful. His top tip is worth remembering: “If you don't ask, the answer is already no!”.
Hello Sergio! You are a PhD student at the Centre for Languages and Literature. In which subject area? What is your research topic?
My subject is English language and linguistics, within the area of English Studies. The topic of my project is how children learn linguistic stereotypes. For example, when we hear someone talking with a very fancy British accent, we may think they are very intelligent. However, if we hear someone speaking with a thick Irish accent, we may think that the person is fun but not as intelligent. These are all learnt stereotypes and I am curious about how children learn them.
You were planning to travel abroad on Erasmus+ staff exchange. Please tell us more!
I had planned going to the UK on three occasions. The first one was a two-week trip to London (in collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London, QMUL) as part of Staff Mobility Programme. The goal was to job shadow for two weeks and get to know their facilities and staff at both their Language Acquisition Lab and their Phonetics Lab.
The second one was a longer (three months) stay at the University of Plymouth, in the south west of England. I was planning on collecting data for my project while staying at their School of Psychology. Their Babylab does similar research, so it was the perfect place for my data collection. The last one was also a longer trip, but to London. I planned on collecting data in London the same way I intended to do in Plymouth. Their Language Acquisition Lab is also carrying out similar research, so it was also the perfect place to collect data!
There can be no student exchange without a student mobility agreement. Indeed, there was no such agreement between the HT Faculties in Lund and the University of Plymouth. What happened? How could you eventually apply for exchange studies (3rd cycle, PhD studies)?
The short trip was easy to arrange, since there does not need to be an agreement beforehand. A couple of documents signed by me and the hosting department was enough. The application was granted and I got around 2700 € to do the trip. It was awesome!
The third trip (the longer stay in London) was surprisingly easy to arrange. QMUL has a streamlined process to have guest PhD students stay at their departments. As far as I was made aware, there was no need for a formal agreement between QMUL and LU, I could just apply, pay the fees and it was easily done! Moreover, I could use my PhD money (the “ograduerade medel”) to cover the costs.
The second trip (the longer trip to Plymouth) was a bit more tricky, as you mentioned. There was no exchange agreement between my department and their faculty. Moreover, UP did not have a streamlined process like QMUL did. Besides, since the trip was longer than two weeks, I was not able to use the Staff Mobility Training program. So I decided that I would email Plymouth Global (UP’s international section) and the International Office in Lund, to see what I could do. It took some back and forth discussing different possibilities. First we thought that an Erasmus+ traineeship would be best, since it does not require an established agreement. However, UP mentioned that this process required a lot of paperwork on both my side and on LU’s administration’s side. Therefore, UP suggested that it was easier for everyone involved to just create a new agreement between my faculty and their faculty! First I was very surprised as this sounded way too formal and something almost impossible to do. But I was just as surprised to see how easy (at least for me) it was. As far as I remember, all I had to do was to confirm the exchange period. After that was done, I just had to apply like any other student for the exchange period.
You decided not to travel to Plymouth. Why?
Working at schools with children, face to face, in the UK, while being hired in Sweden is already a bit complicated. When you add a pandemic on top of it, you can imagine things get worse. We got a lot of delays because of it (Brexit didn’t help either, since that meant that there was a deadline for when the stays could take place, among other practical issues). The delays meant we had to slightly restructure my project and that going via Erasmus+ funding was not possible. Therefore we decided to do the data collection online.
What did you do instead?
I was able to get funding to have people help me with a few practical issues both in Plymouth and London (like recording stimuli of different accents). I also looked into the best platform to do the experiments online. My contact at UP (Prof. Caroline Floccia) recommended Gorilla (www.gorilla.sc), which I ended up using!
How did you get in contact with the colleagues in Plymouth?
I got in contact with Prof. Floccia before even starting my PhD. I first wrote an email to her mentioning that I was applying for a PhD position in Sweden. I asked if it would be possible to stay a few months at her lab to collect data, since my (at the time potentially future) project matched her research. She was very friendly and opened the lab to me! So I was very happy to have written to her even when it was not even certain that I would be a PhD student. After being hired, I wrote to her to ask if I could go to Plymouth for a day or two so that I could meet her and talk about how the actual data collection could be done. In this same trip, I also went to London for two days. After getting hired, I also wrote to some people at QMUL who I thought had similar research to see if I we could have a brief meeting to discuss potential collaborations. I was (and still am) of the believe that “If you don't ask, the answer is already no”. Therefore I thought there was no harm in asking (both Prof. Floccia before starting and the people at QMUL after being hired).
Of course, I tried to be very polite (I hope that’s how it was perceived 😊 ). I made it very explicit that I know that they have other things on their plate and more important things to attend to. I also explicitly told them that I understood if they didn’t want any kind of collaboration or were not able to have me at their respective labs for whatever reason.
I am very happy and very, very, very grateful I got positive answers from both emails and we still talk to this day!
What has been the best part of this collaboration, so far?
Very broadly, how many people are willing to help you if you ask for help (from both academics but also administration). There was a lot of walls but I could always turn to someone who had much more expertise in a given area. It has been also very interesting to see how different universities handle things at different levels: from ethics, to data management to how their international sections work. Finally, being able to carry out the research that I want surrounded by experts on the topic is an academic dream fulfilled!
What have been the main challenges?
I feel it is almost cheating to say the pandemic … But I can’t deny that it has slowed things a lot. The fact that the UK left the EU also made some things tricky. Finding out how to do all the bureaucracy was tough. But, as said above, I was lucky to have two very helpful and competent teams on my side!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us? Do you have any tips or suggestions for PhD students who would like to engage in research collaborations online in the future?
My main advice would be to don’t be afraid of contacting researchers at other universities. Of course, one will not get a positive answer all the time. But if you do not try, you never know! Of course, just because the researcher/contact person says yes, it doesn’t mean the worst is over. But we are lucky to have a great, helpful and competent international team at HT!
Finally, people have gotten used to doing things online (for better or worse, they had to …). So some sort of online collaboration should not sound too off-putting. I even know of some other PhD students that did a “semester abroad” fully online. Yes, they said it was awkward at first, but they said it was also very nice. So online collaborations are a good possibility to keep in mind.