To seize an opportunity, first you need to create it

On Saturday I’m travelling to Australia for a month-long research trip. I’m excited and nervous and a little bit scared, and it’ll be hard to be away from my other half for so long. But this is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I’m definitely looking forward to a breath of fresh air (and sun!) and a chance to get to grips with a different research project and meet new collaborators.

My supervisor first mentioned the idea of a trip to Australia around a year ago, and my response was enthusiastic. However, other PhD students warned me that they had had similar offers, but they had come to nothing. I realised that if I really wanted to make this trip happen, I would need to be proactive. In order to seize the opportunity, I first had to create it.

A few days before the deadline, I applied for a scholarship fund for PhD students from the UK to travel to an Australian institution for a research visit. The application included a research proposal which I constructed with help from my supervisor and our Australian collaborator. We had some detailed discussions about the project that I would be given, and agreed rough dates for the visit. My scholarship application was successful, and the trip began to feel real – flights were booked, accommodation arranged, visa applied for.

This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been proactive – followed up on my supervisor’s suggestion and pestered him about when the trip would be possible, applied for the scholarship even though it was close to the deadline, contacted our collaborator and discussed the research proposal. Sometimes you have to ask to get something. Sometimes you have to ask more than once. On some occasions you might not get it, but on others you will. You’ve nothing to lose and potentially there’s everything to be gained from asking.

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