Thursday, 28 April 2016

An overseas institutional visit to Australia: expectations and initial experiences (part 1 of 3)

Guest post by Stephanie Morris, PhD Candidate at Durham University

Yesterday I sat in Perth’s Botanical Gardens in the Kings Park looking out over the city scape. As I sat and enjoyed the shade of a Eucalyptus tree I noticed a trio of children playing with a Frisbee barefoot on the grass in the sunshine. They stepped to throw and leapt to catch the Frisbee all within view of their parents who sat further up the incline. At one point one of the girls threw the Frisbee high in the air; it landed in the branches of another Eucalyptus tree (thankfully). The tallest boy then reached up to rescue it from where it was lodged so they could continue playing their game. At that point I began thinking about how different these children’s lives seemed to be in comparison to some of the boys I worked with in the North East of England during my ethnographic PhD fieldwork on daily physical activity. I remember images of some of the boys kicking a football down a back alley between terraced houses avoiding wheelie bins, broken glass and rubbish at the sides. Sometimes a ball would get kicked into a yard so one of them would climb over the wall or gate to fetch it. There were no bare feet on grass. There were no eucalyptus trees. But there were young people engaging in unstructured physical activity. I start to wonder about differences and similarities in contexts within and between Australia and the UK, and what exciting insights I will gain from others whilst I am here on the other side of the world.

This is my second full-day in Perth at the start of my seven-week Overseas Institutional Visit (OIV) to Australia. As part of this scheme I am writing a three-part Fuse blog to share my experiences, insights learnt and reflections on my visit ‘down under’. The OIV scheme is funded by the North East Doctoral Training Centre (NEDTC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), giving me the opportunity to visit the University of Western Australia, the University of Wollongong and the University of Queensland. These institutions are home to researchers who are at the forefront of applied and critical research on young people’s physical activity; I am going to be meeting some of the key academics I am citing (often time and time again) in my PhD thesis. Pretty big deal.

So what am I going to be doing during this visit? Firstly, I will be giving presentations about my PhD research to different groups of researchers at the three Universities all with an interest in health and physical activity. From these presentations I hope to gain feedback and discuss key ideas that are forming the discussion chapters of my thesis. Secondly, I am having meetings with various researchers and experts in my field; I hope to learn more about new and innovative current research projects, get new ideas for my own future research and uncover many pearls of wisdom about publishing and how to succeed in academia post-PhD. Thirdly, I’m going to shadow my hosts at certain points, attend events and get involved in any ongoing research projects they are involved with. I want to find out what it is like to work in these institutions, their research groups, and their small and large scale research projects.

I clearly have high hopes about the several weeks to come as well as, I must admit, a few fears. This is my first time in Australia, my first time giving presentations to people who are the experts in my field, and my first experience in any University other than Durham(!). So far my host Hayley at the School of Population Health here in Perth has given me an incredibly warm welcome; my first week has an exciting line up, including attending a launch event where the Department for Sport and Recreation are announcing the future strategic directions in Western Australian Sport and Recreation Industry. Until next time, all the best from ‘Down Under’.

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