Between the months of May-July I took part in an overseas institutional visit (OIV) to the University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands). My area of research is Electoral Registration, and the crux of my visit was to compare the differences between the British and Icelandic registration models.
Prior to my visit I was able to establish contact with one of the professors at HÍ, Professor Eva Heiða Önnudóttir and upon arrival with the help of the admin leads Kolbrún and Sigrún (the essential people to know at university) – through communicating with each of these I was provided with an access card and a desk in the, wonderfully naturally lit, PhD office. Before getting into the more specific positives of the OIV it is worth trying to describe the University of Iceland. Most of the important buildings are connected by a tunnel system to make movement across the campus easier, safer, and drier, in the much more inclement winter months. Having been fortunate enough to arrive in spring I was treated to how bright and inviting the university is inside in the lighter months despite the rather brutal appearance most of it holds from the outside.
In terms of whether the OIV made an impact on my PhD, I believe it did. Getting to experience what is a different work environment to my current university, the University of Manchester, proved to be a helpful change. The work atmosphere at the University of Iceland was a very focussed but calm one. This, along with the various coffee shops and beautiful places to work and reflect near the campus, created an environment conducive to consistent work. The slightly more relaxed but still attentive approach helped me reassess how to approach writing and as a result I completed a draft of a chapter. Another highlight of the OIV was being able to interview, and just generally chat with, various scholars involved in elections in Iceland, an opportunity that would have been restricted to a poorly connected zoom call otherwise. Amongst the people I met was the founder of the Iceland National Election Study, Professor Ólafur Þ. Harðarson who along with Eva provided great insight for my comparative work.
Importantly the OIV gave me insight into how institutions outside of the UK operate. The experience helped me realize that I have a broader scope of jobs and further research options available to me upon completion of my PhD than I had been aware of prior to my visit. I would happily recommend the OIV scheme to other students. Firstly, it is a great way of experiencing life in a different country and it is good opportunity to work in environments removed from your usual experiences. Furthermore, the opportunity to work with new groups of people and adapt to a different working environment, and establish new routines are not only fulfilling experiences but also great assets to have when searching and applying for future roles. Lastly, the non-academic aspects of an OIV should not be understated, particularly for those who have never spent extended periods of time outside of the country they are used to. Experiencing and appreciating a new language, pace of life, attitude towards work, art, politics etc that studying abroad allows for is a privilege to be savoured. Overall, the OIV scheme can be a great addition to the PhD journey and can even prove beneficial to your life beyond it.
PhD Candidate at the University of Manchester researching Electoral Registration and the possibility of reform in the UK.