Exploring Europe whilst studying in the UK

Enver Xin, an MA Translation student from China, gives a flavour of the trips across Europe that she took advantage of during her holiday time at the University of Exeter.

Last December, my friends and I went to France, Switzerland and Finland during the Christmas holiday. This was my first time travelling around Europe. I was so excited, and I wrote some travel journals during our journey to record my experiences and feelings. Now I want to share some of them with you!

Day 1

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The stunning sky when we arrived at Paris airport

We took a flight from Exeter airport directly to Paris airport. This was very convenient because we didn’t have to go to London and queue through Customs which sees thousands of people every day.

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Notre Dame de Paris at night

We took a tube from the airport but got lost in town. After turning left at a corner, there was Notre Dame de Paris, and the bells in the cathedral rang at that time. What a beautiful surprise!

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Duck Confit and French Snails

For dinner was the famous French cuisine, Duck confit. It is considered one of the finest French dishes. It is cooked in its own fat, and then the fat is removed, so the duck is healthy, served with crisps and some vegetables. As for the snails, in French cuisine, the snails are typically purged, killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. They are high in protein and low in fat content, also very delicious.

Day 2

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The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

We went to the Triumphal arch on day 2. The weather was so sunny that everything looked gorgeous. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, it should have been torn down after the Fair, however, French people liked it so much that it remained and has now become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. We were lucky to have such pleasant weather that day, and the Eiffel Tower looks splendid, but the Tower was under maintenance, and we could not get to the top of it. What a pity! This is one of the reasons that I want to go back to Paris again.

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A bus tour around the city centre

Paris is a very large city, and we wanted to see as many famous buildings as possible, so we bought bus tour tickets and let it take us around the city centre. The bus also had an electronic explanation system, and everyone can select their own language and listen to the introduction of each of the sights. It was so great; however, it was very cold in winter.

Day 3

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The Front Gate of Château de Versailles

Versailles was the seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved the royal court from Paris until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789. The front gate looked gorgeous with the gold shining in the sun.

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Scenery around Petit Trianon

We took a little train to travel around Versailles. We were not able to go into the main building of Versailles, so we went to the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. I love the scenery in Petit Trianon so much. It was at dusk, and everything looks gentle but mysterious. The Petit Trianon was for Queen Marie Antoinette’s personal use and enjoyment. There are many fields and they still have vegetables in them. As I walked through those little pathways, I started to understand why Marie Antoinette came to the Petit Trianon to escape the formality of court life.

Day 4

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Strasbourg Cathedral

On day 4, we went to Strasbourg to visit the Christmas market which was known as one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world. It was a foggy day, and the Strasbourg Cathedral looks very lofty.

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The Strasbourg Christmas Market

It was in Strasbourg in 1570 that the very first edition of the oldest Christmas market in Europe took place, then called the “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the Infant Jesus). This was my first time at a Christmas market, and everything seems to attract me. The hot white wine had orange pieces in and was so delicious. This was also my first time eating a crepe. I loved the taste.

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China Central Television during filming 

A funny thing was that we happened to meet a reporter from China Central Television. Suddenly we felt a feeling of being at home in that foreign country.

Day 5

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The mark of the Arctic Circle

Finland was our last stop. We entered the Arctic Circle to visit Santa Claus and to see the aurora. The above picture is my foot on the border of Arctic Circle.

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Santa Claus Village

Santa Claus Village is an amusement park in Rovaniemi in the Lapland region of Finland. You can find everything about Christmas there. We spent an entire day there shopping and playing around.

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Santa Claus and His Reindeer

Everyone can take a picture with Santa and get the electronic version online afterwards. Santa was so nice, and he can even speak a little bit of Chinese! It was so sweet.

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The Husky Park

After taking a picture with Santa, we went to the Husky park. Those Huskies are very cute and lively. I’m a little bit terrified of big dogs, but these ones were luckily very obedient. Some of them had very beautiful fur, like in the pictures below.

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Gorgeous and Elegant Huskies

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Husky Ride

If you go to Rovaniemi in winter, you should try either the Husky ride or the Reindeer ride. These two are the must-do things in the Santa Claus Village. It was my first-time riding in a husky sledge, and it was so exciting and thrilling. I hope I can go back there in the future and take the husky ride again.

Day 6

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The air view of London at night


We planned to see aurora at night on day 5. However, there was a snow storm, and we didn’t get to see it. We only stayed in Rovaniemi for 1 night, so sadly I didn’t have another chance to find the Aurora. This was my greatest regret of the journey. But I saw many things that I never had the chance to see before, and this was the first time I travelled around Europe, so this trip was already a success. The air view of London on my return flight was too beautiful to express in words. From this picture, you may find some famous spots of London, such as The Big Ben, The London Eye and so on. I hope I can travel on more trips abroad again in the near future.

My Christmas Trip to Europe

Ting-Shan Lin, a current MA Translation student from Taiwan, talks about her experience travelling across Europe over the Christmas holiday.

This was my very first backpacking experience to Europe in my life, needless to say how excited I was, especially as the trip was during the Christmas holiday. We went to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. Every place has its own beauty and attractive part, but there was one thing you could never miss during this season– the Christmas market. Basically we came across at least one Christmas market every day in each different city, even without planning.

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Gendarmenmarkt, a German Christmas Market

Germany has the oldest Christmas market tradition in the world, so I was really excited about every visit and enjoying the Christmas vibes there. Of course, we didn’t miss the hot mulled wine, which was really comforting and warming especially after a long walk in such cold weather. But what made me crazy about the Christmas market was the various mugs that we could keep if we really fancied the design. It was quite an adventure for mug hunting. Every time we wandered around a Christmas market, I couldn’t help but check the mug that they served their wine in.

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

This was the very first mug I got in a Christmas market, called ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ in German, which is really famous for its white roof stalls. Actually, it was the only one that we had to pay an entrance fee (¢1) for, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. There was a stage area where crowds gathered for some performances and there was a big indoor market selling a variety of goods from Christmas cards to decorating ornaments.

My favourite Christmas market mug

My favourite Christmas market mug

This shoe-shaped yellow mug is my favourite collection from Vienna’s Christmas market. I still remembered that morning we saw so many people walking around holding it when we were admiring the grand buildings around Hofburg. We started to check every stall for the mug and forgot why we were there initially. Luckily we found it at last, and yes, I tried a different drink which was lovely and the whipped cream not only made it taste better, but also made the mug look even cuter.

Places we visited

Germany:

Berlin – a collision of modern and history

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Reichstag Building, Berlin

Berlin is an interesting city in my opinion. At the first glance, the city has an array of grand modern buildings, and streets are tidy and organised. A special building that we visited during our stay was the Reichstag building. It’s designed as a green building utilising renewable energy technology due to a fire incident in 1933. We booked a free tour, including a brief introduction about the building and an audio-guided tour to the top of the arch. I was amazed by the audio guide because when we started to walk into the circular pathway leading to the top of the arch, the audio guide just spoke automatically and introduced what we could see at the spot we were. We didn’t have to bother working out which button to press or which channel to choose. During this tour, I not only enjoyed the scenery but also learned more about the city.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Compared to the tidiness of the western part of Berlin, the east had a totally different atmosphere and a street scene with countless graffiti. Walking along the ruins of the Berlin Wall, it gave me an illusion of travelling back in time, as if the West and the East were still controlled by two different parties. Some of the graffiti along the wall depicted the historical incident, others may convey the atmosphere of uncertainty during the split period. It’s a great place for tourists who want to have a taste of history and a different vibe away from modern Berlin.

After a four-day stay in Berlin, I found it’s a city combining modern elements, but still preserving its historical characteristic of the Second World War. I love the advanced part of the city as well as the slightly messy side.

Munich

It was really close to Christmas when we travelled back to Munich, Germany. Actually, we planned to go to a world famous Christmas market in Nuremberg during our stay in Munich. However, we forgot to book train tickets and the last minute deal was literally robbery! Moreover, we were all exhausted at this point- the twelfth day of our journey- so we decided to go easy with the last four days.

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New Town Hall, Marienplatz, Munich

We visited our last Christmas Market in front of the old city hall on the 24th December. I found the day of Christmas Eve was quite similar to Chinese New Year’s Eve. Most of the stores were closed by around three in the afternoon to prepare for the night with family. Instead of a Christmas feast in a restaurant, we had a Chinese style dinner to celebrate the night for reunion. We bought some ingredients from a Chinese market for hot pot, which is a tradition in my family for Chinese New Year’s Eve, to celebrate this special Christmas Eve in Munich. After so much gourmet food in local restaurants, this was a special meal to me during the trip. I think I’ll always remember this special Christmas Eve, sharing hot pot with friends in a foreign city.

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

After the comforting meal, we joined a Mass in a local church, which was recommended by a lovely receptionist at our hotel. I am not religious but I was quite interested in the ritual held in church on Christmas Eve. When we arrived in the church, the event had already started. I was a bit surprised by the number of people participating and the chorus, with the Organ accompaniment, echoing around the grand church was astonishing. It was a peaceful moment and I even closed my eyes and started to remember my year of 2016. It was a time for appreciation and reflection.

Christmas Eve Mass

Christmas Eve Mass

Czech Republic:

Prague

Out of all the cities I visited during this trip, Prague is my favourite one, although we didn’t have a good impression at first. The time we arrived at Prague was quite late at night. The first problem we encountered was that we didn’t have the proper currency we needed and secondly I was totally unfamiliar with the language they use (I learned German for two terms during undergraduate studies: although I am only at basic level, I can read and listen to some key words). It was quite a messy night, especially when we arrived at our hotel around 10 pm. It seemed like a private accommodation and we couldn’t find how to get in there. After confirming the address with a coffee shop nearby and getting inside the building, we also found the e-mail the house owner sent us, which included the room number and password of our room. Actually, it was our mistake for not paying attention to the detail of the check-in time. It was a novel experience that we didn’t even have to check in to get into a room. Although it seemed quite scary from the appearance of the building (built during the middle ages with some superstitious stories), it was a cosy apartment with a lovely attic. Much to our surprise, it turned out to be our favourite accommodation and we really felt at home there.

Prague

Prague

Compared to other cities, Prague has a lower commodity price and cheaper fees for transportation. It was a great tourist spot to explore on foot. We visited the area of Prague castle and Charles bridge, which was really magnificent. But the most memorable spot during my stay in Prague was the viewing platform at the top of the Astronomical Clock, which was breathtaking. I still remember it was a beautiful day with brilliant weather, but it was also quite windy and the air was still chilly. Although it was freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers, I still had the temptation to take pictures. It was a totally different angle but a marvellous spot to see the beautiful city underneath, which was like a vivid showcase of various building models with orange roofs shining under the sun.

The colourful roofs of Prague

The colourful roofs of Prague

Austria:

Salzburg – King’s Lake

If the tour to other cities was an exploration of grand architectures, the trip to Salzburg was an adventure of the magnificent natural environment. We went to King’s Lake (Königssee), which is near the border of Austria but located in Germany. As the bus travelled through the mountainous area, a change of scenery caught our attention. Not only the site of the remote mountain’s tip covered in snow, but also the trees and extensive fields along the road. Since we come from a tropical area, it was not every day scenery for us. Needless to say, it was far colder than the places we’ve been for this trip so far. The white snow was shining under the sun, bright and spotless.

Driving through Salzburg

Driving through Salzburg

After a long ride, we finally got to our destination- King’s lake. It was quite misty. Although we couldn’t see anything during our cruise around the lake due to the fog, the view was still spectacular. It was windless and the lake seemed so calm and sparkly. The tour guide also played his trumpet in the middle of the lake to show us the clear echo through the mountains. In the end, he joked that he also had to pay for his cousin who played the melody back in the mountain. It was an enjoyable cruise and I gave a double tip.

King's Lake, Salzburg

King’s Lake, Salzburg

Wandering around Salzburg

It was the 12th day of my trip to Europe. It was also the last day in Salzburg. After nearly two week’s trip with friends, I decided to leave a day for myself. Actually, I had no plan at all, but I was so excited that I could explore the city on my own. Walking along the street from my hotel to the city centre, trees were covered in snow and shining under the sun. It was a bright day but the air was still freezing.

Without a map, I just roamed around the streets. Then, a market popped up after I turned into a busy street. I was surprised and excited because I love exploring local markets wherever I go. There were many stalls and food trucks with a variety of food and daily commodities. I was like a child who went into a candy shop where everything was so novel and attractive. I can’t help roaming around and trying to find out what they were selling. I tasted some food samples like cheeses and sausages. It was like an adventure, even though it might be just daily life for the local people. After 30 mins wandering, I stopped by a food truck which was selling fried chicken. When I was ordering, the salesman asked where I came from. I said Taiwan, and to my surprise, he replied ‘oh, Formosa.’ It was really delightful to find out people from a foreign country know my hometown. The conversation was short, but it really made my day. As I stood around a table and had my meal like the other locals, it gave me the illusion that I was a part of them. It was one of my most memorable mornings of the whole trip.

Social Media, Outreach, and Your Thesis

Ever wondered about the benefits of social media and public outreach for your thesis? Matt Knight presents some of his experiences and why he thinks everyone should be trying it.

It’s been hectic few weeks in which I have inadvertently immersed myself in the world of public engagement, outreach, social media, and everything in between. Two years ago I would have had no idea what I was doing – for the most part I still don’t! But I thought I’d try and tie some of my incessant thoughts together about why I’ve bothered trying to engage with the complexities of social media and general public outreach and its overall benefit to me and my thesis.

To give you some background, I’ve been using social media (Twitter and Facebook mainly) and blogging about my research since I started my PhD two years ago. It started as a way to help my mum understand what I do (a problem I think most us have encountered!), while also giving me an avenue for processing some of my thoughts in an informal environment, without the fear of academic persecution that comes with a conference. I coupled this with helping out on the odd public engagement gig.

It’s safe to say this has steamrolled somewhat, as four weeks ago I found myself sat in a conference workshop dedicated entirely to Social Media and its benefits for research, and two weeks ago I was one of four on a communications and networking panel for Exeter’s Doctoral College to offer information and advice on communicating their research. This has been intermitted with a presentation of my semi-scientific archaeological research to artists, as well as educating a class of 10/11 year olds, alongside teaching undergrads. To top it all off, last weekend, I inadvertently became the social media secretary of a national archaeological group.

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– A picture of me nervously stood in front a class of 10 year olds!

As you read this, please be aware, I don’t consider myself an expert in this field whatsoever. I have 300+ followers on Twitter, 230ish on Facebook, 40ish followers on my blog and minimal training in public engagement – these are not impressive facts and figures. Much of what I’ve done is self-taught and there are much better qualified people who could be writing a post such as this. And yet, I want to make clear that the opportunities, experiences, and engagements I’ve had are beyond anything I could have hoped for.

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– A screenshot of the Facebook page I established to promote my research

A lot of this stems from the belief that there is no point doing what I do – what many of you reading this also do – if no one knows or cares about it. From the beginning of undertaking my PhD, I knew I wanted to make my research relevant. For an archaeologist, or indeed, any arts and humanities student, this can be difficult. Every day can be a battle with the ultimate question plaguing many of us:

What’s the point?

Social media and general outreach events are a great way to get to grips with this and have certainly kept me sane on more than one occasion. Last year I participated in the University’s Community Day, in which members of the public were able to attend and see the ongoing research at what is such an inherent part of their city. That day was one of the most exhausting and exhilarating days of my PhD thus far.

Archaeology Community Day

– Myself and a fellow PhD researcher setting up for Exeter’s Community Day 2015

But then, 6 non-stop hours of presenting your research to nearly 2000 people will do that to you.

It will also help you gain perspective on the value of what you do. Children are particularly unforgiving – if they don’t think something is interesting or matters, they will let you know. The key I’ve found is to work out one tiny bit of your research that people can relate to or find interesting and hammer that home.

This rings true of outreach and engagement events, whether that’s to academics outside of your specialist field, or a room full of restless 10 year olds.

Where I’ve had my most success by far though has been online. My minimal online numbers inevitably stem from my niche field (i.e. Bronze Age metalwork), and yet it’s attracted the right people online. Through Twitter and Facebook I am in regular contact with some of the leading experts in my field, without the formality of “clunky” emails. They retweet and share pictures of what I’m doing. They ask me questions. They share ideas with me.

I’ve recently found out that my blog has become a source of reference for several upcoming publications. This is huge in a competitive academic world where getting yourself known matters.

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– A screenshot of my blog site where I summarise lots of my ongoing research

Beyond this, you’d be amazed what members of the public might contribute to your thesis. So many of my ideas have come from discussions with people who have general archaeological interests, wanting to know more, and asking questions that have simply never crossed my mind.

I’m not going to lie – maintaining this sort of approach is time-consuming and exposing. It’s something that needs to be managed, and needs careful consideration. You need to be prepared that it opens you up to criticism from a wide audience and can add another nag to the back of your already stressed mind. But I know without a doubt my PhD experience, and indeed my research, would be weaker without it.

This blog post has inevitably been largely anecdotal, and by no means explores all of the possibilities open to you. But hopefully it might encourage a couple of you to think about the benefits of engaging with outreach events (there are hundred on offer through the university), as well as turning social media from a form of procrastination into a productive avenue.


Matt Knight is a PhD researcher in Archaeology studying Bronze Age metalwork. He frequently posts about his research and can be followed on Twitter @mgknight24.


 

Coat Tales

In 1853, the blacksmith Joshua Payge of Buckland Brewer, Devon, married Ann Cole. He arrived for his wedding in his best waistcoat, a garment made from Manchester cotton velvet – swirls of blue patterning over a deep red ground.  From its style and manufacture we are able to date the waistcoat back to the 1830s, and might deduce from this fact that it had been handed down to Joshua by his father.  The enamel buttons down the front are a later, joyful addition: tiny flowers of red, white and blue enamel.  From such customization, from the stains and the stitching we are able to turn the waistcoat from an item of clothing to a record that provides us with clues as to what it means to be human.

Coat Tales: The Stories Clothes Tell was a collaborative workshop designed to explore objects such as this and to consider the kinds of stories they tell. It was run by Shelley Tobin, assistant curator of Dress and Textiles at RAMM, Dr Tricia Zakreski, lecturer in Victorian Studies, Heather Hind, postgraduate student in Exeter’s English department, and me, Jane Feaver, lecturer in Creative Writing.  We share a fascination for objects – whether from a historical-practical, a literary-aesthetic, or a fictional-creative point of view – and wanted to investigate the synergies and ramifications in bringing those three enthusiasms together.

Between us we had identified three items from the museum holdings, which we’d selected for their resonance in terms of key moments in a life: Payne’s wedding waistcoat, an eighteenth-century pair of baby’s linen mittens worn by the donor’s “dear father” on his christening day, and a Victorian mourning necklace woven from the hair of the donor’s mother, and worn with a cross as testament to her memory.IMG_0044

– Dr Tricia Zakreski examining objects

Our event was split into three parts. The first part was led by Shelley, who gave the workshop participants a practical, fashion-curator’s view of the objects in hand, which we were able to see and experience at close quarters.  What questions do we ask of an object? How is it constructed? What does this tell us about the date it was made, the sort of person who would have worn it, the way the item was worn? What stories do particular stains or other features of wearing tell? Armed with pencils and notebooks participants were encouraged to take down their observations, which included drawing particular details of the item – stitching, pattern, texture…

The next part of our workshop aimed to give body and life to these objects – all of which, at over 150 years old, might have appeared a little arcane.  We wanted to show how they moved and operated ordinarily in the world.  Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Egerton, Emily Bronte and Wilkie Collins supplied wonderful examples for us: We found a blacksmith in Joe Gargery, dressed to the nines on his wedding day to Biddy; a maid’s revelation to her pregnant mistress of the baby clothes she treasures in a red-painted deal box; a letter from Wilkie Collins’ Hide and Seek, which details the making of a hair bracelet. How does our understanding of the objects change? How does our impression of the text alter, having embraced the physical presence of similar objects?

The last part of the workshop involved us thinking about any of the three objects as cues to writing our own stories.  Using the letter in Hide and Seek as a model, participants were asked to write a letter to an intimate friend describing their chosen object, and thinking about what function the object played in the scene they are about to relate, and what emotion drove the relating… In ten minutes, there was not a sound in the room but the industrious beavering of pencil leads.  Everyone managed a story – some, pages of story! – and as we read around the room, each story exposed some moment in a human life suffuse with the emotion that arises from close attention to detail at such life-changing moments – birth, marriage, death; how the memory of one moment often lies buried in another.

The workshop was an experiment.  The participants, we were clear from the start, were our lab rats.  They didn’t appear to mind.  Someone said out loud how helpful it had been to have this three-pronged approach: that by the time it came to writing for themselves, how much easier it made the task.  Each of us during the course of that afternoon, I think, learned something more about what it means to be human: why we value and invest in certain things, how we use particular objects to embody our memories and our stories, and, conversely, how we can get objects not personally connected to us to offer up their novel stories to us.


Dr Jane Feaver is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.


 

PhDing in a Foreign Land

Sam_Hayes_3colThinking of taking your PhD to somewhere else in the world? Sam Hayes shares his experiences organising and carrying out a research visit to Munich in the spring of 2015. Such a visit can feel quite daunting to arrange, but it’s well worth taking the plunge.

Just over a year ago I did what was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done: I got on a plane and set out to spend three months in another country to continue my PhD research and improve my foreign language skills. This was the longest I’ve ever spent abroad by myself, and I was shocked (and surprised) by how much I learned about myself while out there, and the personal challenges I faced. I thought that in this post I’d share some of those experiences to try and help any other research students out there looking to do some research abroad.

How to Get There

Possibly the most important thing on the list is to get where you want to go. This is a bit more complicated than just hopping on a plane; you’ll need to select a host institution, find a colleague to work with, and try to get any funding to cover your travel costs. This is actually a lot like choosing a PhD supervisor and institution, but with the added advantage that you’ll probably know more about your project at this stage (and you’re not burdened with your choice for the next three years).

I narrowed it down to two institutions, and decided on Munich in the end. This city has produced a bunch of Martial scholars who’ve heavily influenced the field, and the option to meet these people was too good to miss. The person I contacted at Munich also got back to me very quickly and although she couldn’t supervise me due to her being on sabbatical she put me in contact with a finishing PhD student of hers who was hugely helpful. The other institution… was less helpful, and the scholar I would have worked with was very busy. I went with my gut.

For funding I was lucky enough to have a fund specifically designed for AHRC students to travel with, but there are numerous institutions like the DAAD which regularly advertise this kind of travel scholarship. My advice would be to get everything sorted out a long time before you travel as deadlines can be quite tight (I didn’t apply to the DAAD in the end because of this). It might be worth considering waiting until the next funding round to get everything sorted in time. The Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität also helped source my accommodation for me (which was a godsend), but there are loads of good websites out there to help you out. Make sure to ask your local contact(s) for advice and support.

What to Do When You’re There (Academic)

The number 1 priority for me was to improve my reading and conversational German, but it’s also worth experiencing life and study in another country, as well as seeing what you can while you’re there.

I found improving my conversational German very difficult when I was in Munich because Germans tend to practice their (irritatingly good) English on you. If you discover that people find it easier to communicate with you in English I’d suggest finding a couple of people who are exceedingly patient to practice on (elderly landladies are perfect for this). I’d also recommend doing what I didn’t and joining an intensive language programme. They can be expensive, but the results speak volumes. The proudest moment of my stay was going grocery shopping for my landlady and managing the whole trip in German (frozen red cabbage was particularly hard!). After nearly a month and a half feeling like I couldn’t express myself it was moments like this that really boosted my confidence. My spoken German is still not perfect, but I’m so much faster than when I started, and my reading abilities have sky-rocketed. It’s worth being honest with the levels you can achieve while you’re there as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You should also check out the institution while you’re there. Find out how their research culture works, how their undergraduates learn, and how they socialise. I found it a bit odd that there was a much sharper distinction between work time and free time (lots of very serious German faces 9-5, for instance), but the sense of community was stronger too. The more you can see and do the better. I also gave a research talk (in English) and got to meet several colleagues at this and other events (including those scholars I mentioned earlier). Make sure to make the most of the time you have, too – going over and chatting to some big-shot professor because you may never get another chance is a good idea, and you might well be the most interesting person in the room at this point too so knock yourself out. If all else fails you won’t be there long, anyway.

What to Do When You’re There (Non-Academic)

Don’t forget that this is still a trip. Travel! See the world! What’s the point of going hundreds of miles to simply sit in another dark room reading books and articles? The chances are you’ll have far too much spare time in a strange, new place anyway so you can always catch up on work in the quiet hours. The worst thing to do is just sit around feeling sorry for yourself – force yourself out of the front door and see the local sights, walk the block. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste the novelty. If you don’t when’s your next chance? What stories will you tell your envious friends at home when you get back?

I guarantee that travelling for part of your PhD can be one of the hardest parts of the doctorate, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding for me. I’ve met so many exciting new people, seen and experienced new things, and got to travel a bit more of Europe in the process. This is the most free you’ll ever be in your academic life, so go out there and, as a wise philosopher once put it, just do it.

Sam Hayes is a third year PhD student in Classics, specialising in Latin literature, at the University of Exeter. He hosts a blog (on which this piece originally appeared) at https://samhayesclassics.wordpress.com/ where he discusses aspects of his research and the overall PhD experience.

This blog has been reposted with permission of the author.

Researching Abroad

Researching abroad as part of PhD study is the topic covered in our latest episode of The Humanities PhD podcast. Listen below:

Being a Part of It: the Benefits of Being on a Committee

Do you like being part of your academic community? Do you feel that talking to people in your field is inspiring? Maybe you should be on a Committee…

Personally I find it really exciting when I get a chance to speak to people who really understand my subject. The best conversations are the ones where I get to talk about the specific issues at play in my wider field of performance and my narrower field of circus – the chance to talk about the specific issues at play is really exciting because of the connections it inspires and the feeling of being understood.

So, last year when the chance to join the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researcher’s Network  came up, it seemed a good opportunity. I had the chance to meet and work with like-minded people with the aim of trying to think about some of the ways we could make being a PGR or ECR in the field of performance easier.

For me it also represented something slightly different: an opportunity to bring my old professional life and my newer academic life into conversation. Previously I had been a marketer who ran events and managed communications, including social media. This set of skills was something that the NRN needed, so it felt like a good way to contribute something useful.

Since I joined the NRN I’ve worked with the other person responsible for social media and publicity to set up our own blog  focused on providing useful reflections on personal experiences of research eg the ‘I-wish-I’d-known-this-when-I-started’ or descriptions of moments that changed people’s perspectives on their research. I’ve also started to organise a symposium that has given me the chance to draw on personal connections for mutual benefit, eg publicising an archive I love and drawing on the expertise of some of my personal connections. There is also something interesting in observing how these types of organisation work.

I think this is probably the key to deciding if you want to be part of a committee like the NRN. You need to be prepared to give something as well as to work out what is in it for you. For me a lot of the experience I have had has been in a range of industries such as corporate events, civil engineering/construction services (sexy!) and the charity sector. Being a part of a field-specific committee has allowed me to use those skills and make them more relevant to the academic context I am now working in, whereas for you it might be gaining them for the first time. It has also widened my network to include some great people who I am now working with who I might not have met because are research doesn’t overlap – circus meets live-streaming/Shakespeare/early modern studies anyone?

You probably can identify something else hovering underneath all of this description. I think we have to be honest that part of what being on a committee involves is a wish to make your CV more desirable. Yes, that is definitely true, but you will only get the most out of it if you are also invested in giving something back. I’d definitely recommend doing it because you’ll meet some great people and have some inspiring conversations along the way.


Author’s Bio

Kate Holmes is based in the Drama department and is in the third year of a PhD on female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s. For more information on Kate’s research please see her eprofile .

This Blog has been posted with the permission of the author.

 

Experimental Archaeology: Neanderthal Spear Technology

PhD student Alice La Porta is undertaking archaeological experiments on the nature Neanderthal spear use this summer as part of her PhD project on Middle Palaeolithic stone tool projectile technology. Read all about her research below!

Did Neanderthal use stone-tipped wooden spears as throwing hunting weapons?

Fig 1 Alice and friends

Alice la Porta during the first set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

In Europe, a small number of wooden spears have been found in archaeological contexts from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic (c. 1,200,000-40,000 years ago), such as at Schöningen, Clacton and Lehringen. The first suggestion that such spears had stone tips comes in the European Middle Palaeolithic, the time of the Neanderthals, in the form of distinctive stone points, also called Levallois or Mousterian points. But how can we be certain that these stone points were used by Neanderthals as spear-heads for their wooden spears? Analysing the utilization wear and the impact fractures present on the surfaces of modern, experimentally-used spear-tips and archaeological stone points, using optical and digital microscopes, is one approach to inferring the prehistoric uses of these tools.

A big question in any discussion of Middle Palaeolithic spears is…how were Neanderthals using their stone-tipped wooden spears? Where Neanderthals throwing their spears or were they using them as close-range thrusting weapons? It has previously been argued that, while Neanderthal populations may have used stone-tipped wooden spears, these were rudimentary thrusting weapons. However the differences between throwing and thrusting spear delivery systems are still poorly understood for the earlier Palaeolithic, both in terms of spear performance and concerning the traces left behind on the spear tips. This partly reflects the limited range of experiments which had, until recently, been undertaken.

Fig 2 spear throw

First set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

Building on previous archaeological experiments, and drawing on ethnographic observations, I am conducting a series of weaponry experiments within my PhD research project. The experiments aim to test the performances of replica Middle Palaeolithic stone-tipped wooden spears, and explore the differences in the resulting wear and breakage patterns that can be seen on the thrown and thrusted spears.

The experiments  have  been  funded  by  the  UK’s  South  West  and  Wales  Doctoral  Training Partnership (SWW DTP), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the University of Exeter. They are taking place at Aöza Open-air Museum “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Albersdorf, Germany) within the OpenArch/EXARC partnership. The support of all of these organisations is very gratefully acknowledged.

Author’s Bio:

Alice La Porta is a second year PhD student in the Archaeology department studying stone tools in the Middle Palaeolithic. She is funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership under the supervision of Linda Hurcombe and Rob Hosfield (University of Reading).

This piece originally appeared on the Archaeology Department blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/2016/07/05/experimental-archaeology-neanderthal-spear-technology/)

 

Reflections on the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow

This article was originally posted on the Digital Humanities at Exeter blog and is reproduced with kind permission.

Copyright Chetwode Ram Associates LTD 2015. No publication without the correct license. Call 00441637830225 to check or apply. All unlicensed publication will be charged.

Digitising using the conservation cradle in the Special Collections

Hannah Petrie reflects on her time spent at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow in Poland.

This was my first time attending the annual Digital Humanities conference, and it’s certainly the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. We were told that at final count, there were 902 delegates from 45 different countries (to put it in perspective, the Digital Humanities congress that I attended in Sheffield in 2014 had 100 delegates). I went along with four of my colleagues from our Digital Humanities team in Exeter and one PhD student.

The main lecture theatre that we congregated in for the plenaries was impressively huge, and must have seated around 1200 people. The scale of the conference was reflected by the number of parallel sessions on offer. Eleven sessions ran concurrently throughout most of the conference, meaning that each one involved a difficult decision. Checking Storify feeds of tweet highlights from the conference, I felt like there was at least another conference-worth of additional material. I sometimes wanted to attend two or three sessions that were running at the same time, and wished that some of the sessions could have been recorded so that we could listen to the ones we missed afterwards.

Workshops
As well as the conference, my colleagues and I had also registered for a number of workshops, which took place in the two days before the conference began. The workshops I chose gave me an introduction to using the tools GAMS and Cirilo to deposit and archive research documents; using Voyant Tools for text analysis, so that you can instantly generate wordclouds and other useful tools to tell you about word use in your corpus; and how to create a simulation using R, but also how to think through the scenario effectively before you even begin coding. It was a lot to take in but was also a good opportunity to meet people in smaller groups.

Conference
For the main conference, I ended up going to a lot of the talks on analysing and using new media, and also dipping into the stylometry, scholarly editions and mapping tracks. Some of the discussions and visualisations I saw afterwards on Twitter looked fascinating too, with the diversity panels in particular generating a lot of interest. There was so much on offer that you always had to miss out on something, but between us, our team tried to make sure that we went to as many different parallel sessions as possible.

I was presenting a short paper with my colleague Charlotte Tupman on the Thursday [abstract], so on the Wednesday afternoon before the poster session, we found a vacant lecture theatre and took some time to go over our presentation and to make sure that our slides worked. It was a useful precaution, because we found that our live demo didn’t look quite right on the big screen because of the aspect ratio, so we were able to record a screencast instead.

Our poster
My colleague Graham Fereday had a poster accepted on the subject of 3D scanning for preservation [abstract], and was presenting at the poster slam. The poster was a joint effort between Graham and our colleagues Mick Mullins, Rich Webb and Gary Stringer. At the slam, everyone had 4 minutes maximum to present their posters to the group. Again, this was on a huge scale, with 4 simultaneous sessions, each with around 20 presenters – and these were just the people who had opted to present. At the reception later, posters were roughly organised by subject into 26 groups. We had the opportunity to wander round each stall and talk to the creators. It was quite an efficient way to make connections with people who had similar research interests to you. People came to speak to Graham about 3D scanning and techniques and we made links that may not otherwise have been formed.

Our presentation
Our presentation went off without a hitch on Thursday, and there was a much larger audience than I thought we might have. People seemed attentive and several tweeted about our paper.

We had some very useful feedback and discussions as a result of delivering the paper, and I discovered that presenting wasn’t as daunting as I’d been worried about: everyone was very friendly and encouraging.

Finishing up
Claire Warwick’s keynote talk on digital information design marked the closing ceremony and gave us a lot of food for thought. She posited the library as a physical interface for accessing information and asked what this might mean for our access of digital information, which doesn’t have a physical presence in the same way. She illustrated how we navigate physical resources, such as being able to remember the position on the page of a particular sentence, or being able to walk back to the shelf on which you found a particular book, simply don’t apply for digital. The conclusion was that we should accept that digital is different and we should try to make it work in its own way.

I found it interesting to hear that many students much preferred working in the library to anywhere else, even if they brought their own device and weren’t using any of the physical resources from the library, because it was the space that they associated with work and that they felt was important.

It was announced at the closing ceremony that DH 2017 would be held in Montreal, Canada. The news about the accessibility of next year’s conference was welcomed enthusiastically, and the promise of a virtual stream is also a step in the right direction for such a large conference. We had better get practising our French too, as it will be bilingual.

Next year, I’d like to see the conference embrace the digital even more, with a mobile-friendly programme online, the ability to create a personalised schedule, and a list of all conference attendees and their institutions, so you could look up people’s contact information after you meet them.

At the banquet on the final night, I was presented with my ADHO bursary award along with all of the other winners. There seemed to be a lot of us and it’s hoped there will be even more next year. In the final networking opportunity of the conference, we sat next to delegates from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Aside from the bustle of the conference, we also got to explore the city in our free time. We took a walk down by the river one evening and discovered the statue of the dragon near the castle, which surprised us by breathing real fire when we walked by. I managed to find Massolit Bookshop, which a friend had described to me as his favourite bookshop in Europe. We even had the chance to explore the famous salt mines at Wieliczka on the day we arrived. On the last evening we waited by St. Mary’s Basilica tower in central square for the trumpeter who appears there every hour on the hour, day and night. According to local legend, the trumpet call ends abruptly as a tribute the famous trumpeter who was shot in the throat with an arrow in the 13th-century, when sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Despite our scepticism the trumpeter showed up right on time, and played the Hejnał Mariacki at each of the 4 tower windows. And then it was time to say goodbye to Kraków and begin our journey back home.


Hannah Petrie works in Digital Humanities Archives and Documentation in the College’s Digital Humanities Team. Her expertise includes working with archived data, documenting research projects on the web, and text encoding with TEI. She is currently contributing to an XQuery- and XSLT-based text archive system as part of an AHRC research project. She was awarded an ADHO early career bursary, which enabled her to attend this conference. She attended this conference along with five of her colleagues from Exeter: Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman, Graham Fereday and Rich Holding from the Digital Humanities team, and PhD student Richard Graham.

Rock/Body: A new research network

Rock Body

Photo courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

Dr João Florêncio explores questions raised as part of Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded project for which he is the Principal Investigator.

If asked about the similarities and possible continuities between the geologic world and the human body, most people will probably shrug and leave it at that, probably with a sense of disbelief on the value of the question just thrown at them: what would such disparate realms have in common? Why would one be interested in thinking together rocks—perceived as hard, static, dead, ever-lasting—and human bodies—seen as living, fleshy, organic, perishable, and capable of affects?

However, when paid closer look, geologic and human bodies begin to appear somewhat porous to one another. Think about calcium, for instance. Produced by the stars, it entered the composition of rocky planets like the Earth, where it became constituent part of sedimentary rocks. However, calcium is also very soluble in water and thus makes the jump into the animal food chain where it becomes a crucial element for the mineralisation of teeth and bones as well as some cellular processes. Without calcium—arriving from the stars to the rocks to the water to the food you eat–you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone dare to walk.

Besides life’s dependence on minerals, geologic and human bodies have also been brought closer together thanks to two other events of a totally different kind (recent ones, if we consider them in relation to the wider history of the Earth). Those events—industrialisation and capitalism—unfolded through the exploitation, on the one hand, of geological resources such as coal and, on the other, human resources in the form of labour time. It was coal that powered James Watt’s steam engine; and it was human labour that extracted the coal to feed the industrial revolution. The burning out of rocks and bodies were essential for the accumulation of capital. And they keep on being so even today when our smartphones, tablets, and “cloud computing” interfaces—so cleanly conceived and designed they appear eons away from the smog and black lung of the industrial revolution—are still dependent on the mining of rare metals mostly taking place in developing countries and which are necessary to support the circuit boards, servers, and communication cables upon which our fetishised gadgets depend. Further, it is also often developing countries that are paid to import the e-waste produced when our smart machines reach their planned obsolescence and dispose of it. What do these stories tell about different kinds of human bodies and their relationships with metal and other geological resources at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking the world has freed itself from matter and become primarily quantified and understood in terms of data and Mbps (Megabytes per second)?

SingleRock_Colour_1000px

Image courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

As such, if we consider the porosity of the geologic and the human to one another, highlighted by millions of years of circulation and storage of minerals between rocks and living bodies and back again; and if we accept that both rocks and human bodies have a shared history of exploitation under capitalism, in what ways can these overlaps—these blurry areas where rock becomes (human) body becomes rock—open new pathways for collaborative research projects across disciplinary borders that have divided modern academia between sciences, humanities, and arts? What kinds of questions can a focus on these areas of ontological fuzziness bring about if the geologic and the human appear to no longer hold clearly defined boundaries separating the one from the other? And what can it do for the ways in which we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world at a time when the planet is changing so rapidly, environmentally, socially, politically?

In order to start probing these questions, Lancaster University’s Professor Nigel Clark and I have brought together a diverse group of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists under Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded research networking project. Departing from the belief that the scope and implications of the issues at hand cannot be safely contained within the traditional boundaries of a single discipline—or of various disciplines working without permeability to one another—the participants in the network have been meeting since April for a series of three research seminars where each researcher has been contributing their own thoughts on the interfacings of the geologic with the human body.

Organised around three sub-themes—Flesh/Minerality, Extraction/Exhaustion, and Time/Duration—the seminars bring together artists, curators, social scientists, earth scientists, and humanities scholars in order to start enacting much-needed cross-disciplinary dialogues and, from there, sketch future research partnerships.

The project will culminate at Exeter in September with an exhibition of artworks by participating artists and the presentations of a new site-specific performance piece conceived in response to the seminar discussions and the Exeter landscape.


FAT_6918_JoaoFlorencioDr Joao Florencio is a Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture. He holds a BA from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, an MA with Distinction from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London.

An A-Z of reasons to do a POST fellowship

Sarah Foxen’s piece originally appeared on the NEWBROGUESANDBLISTERS Blog and is reposted with permission.

AZ

Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.

Assertiveness
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.

Balance
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.

Collaboration
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.

Drive
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.

Expertise
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Friends
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.

Giving
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.

Helping
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.

Inspiration
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.

Job prospects
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.

Knowledge
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.

Learning
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.

Momentum
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.

Network
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.

Opportunities
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.

Purpose
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.

Questioning
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.

Reflection
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.

Space
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.

Tales
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.

Understanding
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.

Vision
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.

Writing
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.

eXpectation
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.

Yolo
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.

Zeal
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.


Author’s Bio

Sarah Foxen is a postgraduate researcher in French Linguistics. Her research investigates the interactions between language and identity in the Franco-Belgian borderland. She is also interested in trends and developments in academia, and blogs about researcher skills, research and impact from the perspective of a junior academic.