Soaking up the Italian sunshine has no cons.
Studying abroad in Italy has just few cons.
Yet becoming a Laidlaw scholar while sunbathing abroad has more cons than I thought.
One of these is probably being the first one to write the blog entry when I have nothing uplifting to share, just a pinch of fear and a dollop of stress and, it feels like, hectoliters of isolation. How can this be if I haven’t even started my research?!
Although at university the social media and emails are so frequently used for communication, I realized how ensuring it is when one has this comfort of meeting the supervisor or the university staff in person in case of any doubts or queries, rather than relying on virtual contact only. Surprisingly, emails often make the communication much more difficult, definitely less personal and way more time-consuming. Especially when your supervisor suggests meeting face to face to discuss the application and the only thing you can offer instead is a Skype date (and then the entire new chapter of poor internet connection comes into play…).
Reading all those invitations to guest lectures that I was obviously going to miss, receiving updates about the training weekend that I was not going to attend (no mentioning missing the ceilidh) paradoxically made me feel left out, as if I had not been part of the group. I never thought that the need for belonging can play such an important part in conducting the research, but having read for a tenth time that “now I am part of the community of Laidlaw scholars” while being at least 1,616.2 miles away from this community, made me realize how fundamental it is to know you are not alone in your work, at any stage of the research.
I’m not sharing this to vent my negative energy or whine (what a nasty start to this year’s blog!) but I would rather like to demonstrate that the research is not only reading, writing, making experiments, but it also has an important social dimension, which often is neglected or absent at all when discussing academic work. For this reason, I’am immensely grateful for the second part of the Laidlaw Scholarship, the Leadership Training, which makes this social dimension more evident as it brings together such diverse individuals with different mindsets, ideals and ambitions as Laidlaw scholars and lets them talk openly about weaknesses and their fears, which I believe is the only constructive way to tackle the problems (and, trust me, way more fun when done in teams rather than individually on Skype…).
Because feeling isolated after 8 lonely hours spent in the archives or a laboratory is totally normal, and we needn’t always pretend that the research is all roses and the work is going great as usual. Feeling lost and scared at the beginning of your journey, especially if it’s your first independent project on such a scale as it is for me, is natural too, and I hope that this post will make you realize that you are not the only one going through hard time.
I wish each and everyone good luck, loads of patience and a good friend/supervisor/mentor/parent who will support you throughout your project. I hope I still will be given a chance to meet you all, you guys already rock!