Exploring the Other – My short-term mobility experience
Last updated on Friday 20 Aug 2021 on 12:28pm
In 2019 I was fortunate to embark on three short-term mobility opportunities facilitated by Nottingham Trent University (NTU). The first was as part of NTU's Creative SMART Cities Challenge and involved travelling by train from Nottingham to Timisoara in Romania. The second took me to Boston and New York to look at PhD opportunities, and the final trip was to California doing the same. The SMART Cities Challenge was designed to give widening participation (WP) students a chance to partake in mobility opportunities, while the other two were self-initiated to pursue PhD opportunities.
I am a passionate traveller, and all three opportunities allowed me to explore horizons I may never have had a chance to see, without the support from NTU Global. As a WP student, I was keen to secure a fully funded PhD place and the US had multitude of opportunities which I was able to explore during my trip. I would gladly have done a full year abroad, but due to course requirements this was not an option for me. Short-term mobility enabled me to do things at my own pace, which may not have been possible on a more structured long-term programme.
Through these opportunities, I saw what it would take to succeed as a research academic and came to the conclusion that I needed to develop my networking skills a little more. These opportunities showed me that no dream is too big but that to get to where I wanted to be at the end of my PhD, this would require a more expansive approach than NTU could offer on its own. Being a WP student comes with a range of barriers, the biggest being access to funds to study abroad. With NTU's funding, I was able to undertake my two US trips, maximising the benefits I gained from them.
My biggest highlight was walking onto Stanford University's campus on a gloriously sunny California Tuesday, finally having found a goal that I actively wanted to pursue. Until that point the PhD seemed like an unachievable goal but suddenly it felt real. While I failed to get onto the PhD programme I applied for, the trip to California shaped my international perspective in many ways that have stayed with me until now. I feel really fortunate that although it was challenging finding the right people to talk to at times, every person I reached out to via email was very gracious and helpful.
I feel incredibly thankful that all three opportunities have directly fed into my ongoing academic career. Without doing the 2019 trip I would most certainly have floundered during my PhD application process. Indeed, the Timisoara trip opened up a paid research position with NTU Global that in turn has set up a fellowship with Staffordshire University. It all daisy chained into where I presently am, and without NTU Global's belief in me, I would probably be in a very different place. While COVID-19 has dampened physical travel, I have taken part in many online sessions with people from all around the world.
To all the students out there questioning whether short-term mobility is for you, my best piece of advice is to always seize every opportunity open to you because you never know where it can lead. Yes, the Other can seem scary, but by pushing your boundaries and coming out of your comfort zone you can achieve so much more than you ever thought possible.
Rachel Saunders is a PhD Candidate at the School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham.
The Short-term mobility, long-term impact report can be read here.