Solo Research Trips Abroad: Advice from Kolkata

Solo Research Trips Abroad: Advice from Kolkata

Lydia Murtezaoglu is a third-year PhD student at the University of Glasgow in the English Literature and History Departments. The following post is Part Two of her experiences and advice regarding solo research trips abroad.

A couple of weeks ago, towards the end of my own solo research trip to Kolkata, India, I found myself on a direct train to panic-ville, and it took a lot of effort to calm myself down. But I struck thought gold and reconfigured how I was thinking about the remainder of my trip. Instead of obsessing over wasted time and things I should have done differently, I decided to think about the last three weeks as a separate research trip with its own specific aims and objectives. Relief followed. My list of tasks was still far too long, but I realised that I could only do so much and stressing over it wasn’t going to help.

[Image description: Stacks of documents from an archive in India lying on top of a desk and bench.]

Photo by Lydia Murtezaoglu

After my three months in Kolkata, I’d like to share some general advice for those of who are thinking of conducting a solo research trip abroad. The following list contains information I wish someone had told me before I’d started my trip.

Before you leave:

  • Get a letter of introduction from your supervisors and make copies.

  • Make several photocopies of your passport and visa, you are going to need them.

  • Check what documentation the archives will need beforehand. In Kolkata, each archive required at least on passport photo.

  • Pack emergency food for when you first arrive, so you don’t, like me, end up eating only Percy Pigs your first day. Having something you’re familiar with eating when you are getting the lay of the land will come in really handy.

  • Contact relevant academics in your field who live in the country you’re travelling to. Let them know when you will be arriving, what your research is on and where you want to conduct your research. Arrange meetings beforehand if you can. This will allow you to check that your academics will be there when you are. Due to visa issues I had no control over my research dates. Even so, it would have been useful to know that the leader in my field would be away from Kolkata for the duration of my stay.

  • Write a research plan. There are examples online, but I used what I learned from the Project Management course run by UofG.

  • Look up fun things to do in the area so you have something else to look forward to besides work. I pinned museums and places of interest on a map.

[Image description: Lydia and a man from India working on a piece of pottery together at a pottery wheel.]

Photo by Lydia Murtezaoglu

During your trip:

  • Remember your physical and mental well-being is your first priority.

  • Chat to your PhD friends at home when you need some advice/perspective.

  • People can be amazing, so find some local activities and cafes to frequent to help you meet some of them. I tried pottery; I was pretty rubbish, but I made a couple of pals which was more important.

  • If there’s a time difference, make sure your friends and family know when the best time to contact you is. My boyfriend called me when he left work, so I didn’t have to stay up too late.

  • Make friends with as many people as you can, especially at the archives and libraries. Friendly archivists and security staff can make all the difference when you’re trying to complete your research.

  • Record what you do each day, even if it’s only a few lines. This helps you keep track of and appreciate how much you’ve done.

  • Say yes to things as often as you can. Gypsy Jazz concert? Sure! Afro Cuban Jazz concert? Sure! Three-hour yoga class at 6am? Hard no.

One last piece of advice: develop a mantra for when the going gets tough. Something along the lines of ‘You’ve got this!’ always buoys me up. Mirror pep talks have never done it for me, but they might for you. You do you, whatever works.

Just remember, when travelling abroad for a solo research trip, a good mind-set can make all the difference. Because, whilst preparation is key, you can’t prepare for everything and sometimes you have to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.

Cover Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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