Sweet Home Alabama…. Indiana: Overseas Fieldwork Visit

Hannah Sawyer, Psychology, University of Liverpool (2018 cohort).

I am currently sat here writing this blog from my new (temporary) home at Purdue University, Indiana. I am almost halfway through my overseas fieldwork visit and what an experience it has been so far! I am not going to lie, leaving my family at the airport and travelling to Indiana by myself was not easy. Although I may be used to living 200 miles away from home, 4000 miles is a completely different story, and let’s just say my sense of direction is not the best! So, the thought of having to make my way to a new university by myself was terrifying. However, I made it, and I am having a great time (the constant sunshine and less of the Liverpool rain may also be contributing to that).

The aim of my visit was to collect data for my third and final (yay!) study for my PhD. Purdue University was the perfect place to do this study – it has given me the opportunity to work with some of the most established researchers in my field and gain crucial feedback on the study and discuss ideas and changes that could be made in the future. Purdue University also hosts an intensive summer school for children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) which is the population of interest for my PhD. Children with DLD attend this summer school to take part in research, making recruitment, which is usually difficult especially with such a population, so much easier.

Although I am only halfway through, I have already gained so many valuable skills. After the pandemic where I was analysing data that had already been collected, it was great to start a more hands-on study where I had to (re)learn skills in how to keep children motivated and on topic (stickers and toys have become my best friend!) and also how to keep up with the organisation and recruitment of families. I have also gained real hands-on experience in conducting standardised language assessments which is useful for understanding children’s language development and diagnosing children who may have DLD. I have to be honest, learning how things work in a new lab where you have never been before – and not knowing the ways of life or who anyone is – was a daunting feeling at first, but it’s great to see how others do similar research to you and the insights I have gained have been invaluable. I have learnt so much from observing other researchers even down to simple things such as the best way to structure a session to ensure you are getting the most out of the children and making full use of the time. All these skills will undoubtedly benefit me in not only my PhD years, but in my future academic career too and there is no doubt that I will continue to keep learning even more over the next few months!

But enough about me, I also wanted the opportunity in this blog to tell you more about applying for the NWSSDTP Overseas Fieldwork Funding and all the tips and tricks I learnt along the way:

  • Do not leave your application until the last minute! The application involves researching costs such as flights, accommodation, and visas and some of this takes time (and this is after you have found and secured a lab to work at too, which can involve building a connection and relationship with those you wish to visit).
  • If you need a visa, apply early! I was fortunate enough to not have to attend an interview at the American embassy (although this would have been a nice day out to London), but sometimes you do – and it can be months until you get an appointment. Trust me when I say, the last few weeks before you leave can be stressful enough, with saying goodbye to family and friends and also trying to pack your life into one 23kg suitcase without forgetting anything important, you definitely do not want the added pressure of wondering whether you will be accepted into the country you are going to.
  • If you can, get in contact with another student who has done a similar trip to you at the university where you are going. I was in contact with an ex-visiting scholar at Purdue University, and they helped answer all the questions that I had (which was a lot!) and saved me from falling down the deep rabbit holes of google. They also gave me advice about securing accommodation and the best places to live, as I had no idea about the area or even where my building was on campus.
  • Keep in regular contact with who you are going to work with BEFORE you get there, that will make the transition a lot easier and avoid the awkward first meeting moments. But also, DO NOT forget about your supervisors back home, they are still there to support you so you should keep in regular contact with them while you are away too (you know how much everyone loves a Zoom call).
  • Lastly, you know the saying work hard, play hard – this is an opportunity you may not get again so obviously focus on your work first, but also make the most of the experience and have some fun, explore the place you are staying and make new friends!

This is an experience I will not forget for a long time; it has helped me to grow as a researcher and become more confident in myself. I cannot believe I only have a couple of months left but you know what they say – time flies when you are having fun (or trying to finish your PhD as it goes) and I’m sure I will be desperate for a good cup of English tea and some Cadburys chocolate by the time I’m back.

If you have any questions about the funding or my experience, then please feel free to contact me on: hshsawy2@liverpool.ac.uk

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