The benefits of research trips

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Life down under: a koala takes it easy

I’m now a fortnight into my Australian trip, and things are panning out well. The heat is tolerable, the sunshine welcome, the people friendly. I’m on first name terms with the waiters in the coffee shop, the college chefs and the porters. The Aussie sunshine has turned me (much to my surprise) into an early riser; 6am is so much more pleasant here where the birds sing, the warm air is fresh and the sun is already poking its head above the horizon.

Lest anyone think this is all just a glorified holiday, I’ve been learning a lot here too. My collaborator here is focused and has an excellent understanding of the problem I’m working on and the tools I’m using to tackle it. I’ve gained a lot from our frequent chats over coffee in the shade of the eucalyptus trees in the corner of the quad. I’ve learnt new techniques and understood new pieces of physics. But more than that; I’ve participated in all sorts of research discussions, heard new ideas, seen new perspectives. And I think this is the most valuable thing about travelling; your viewpoint literally alters. You get the opportunity to look at the world anew and get a fresh perspective on things.

Prior to coming out here, I had been working on the same project for months – it had turned into a monstrous hydra, growing three new heads for every one that was cut off. I needed a break. I needed a fresh start. That’s what Australia has given me – a fresh project to sink my teeth into and fresh ideas to get my head around.

There are other benefits to working away from home, particularly somewhere far away: due to the time difference, emails don’t come into my inbox during working hours. I don’t have all the usual obligations of work – no seminars to attend, no colloquia, no tutorials to give. It’s amazing how much more one can do in a day that isn’t punctuated by constant distractions and commitments. The sunshine has cured me of my usual winter lethargy, giving me extra energy and making me more productive. Besides which, I’m enjoying it all – the weather, the wildlife, the flowers, the sights and smells. Now, how do I turn the temperature down by a couple of degrees?

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