OIV Report: University of Helsinki Center on Research on Activity, Development and Learning

By Aleksandra Irnazarow, Management & Business, Accounting & Finance and Work Psychology Pathway, University of Leeds

As an ESRC sponsored PhD student I took an opportunity to undertake a 3-month long Overseas Institutional Visit to the University of Helsinki Center on Research on Activity, Development and Learning “CRADLE”.

My main goal when identifying the research centre and approaching my prospective supervisors in Helsinki was to receive and in-depth training in cultural-historical activity theory; a theoretical framework I use in my PhD. I was familiar with the work of CRADLE and their expertise in activity theory through my literature review. Once initial contact had been made CRADLE administrator was incredibly helpful and completed the required paperwork swiftly. Upon my arrival, I was taken to a spacious office and assigned a desk by the window with a beautiful view of the city. I was also very pleased to discover that I shared this office with other international visitors to the group, we bonded quickly which ensured a collegial and friendly atmosphere from the start.

The visit IMG_20161003_135905was invaluable for me professionally and enabled me to grow as a researcher. Apart from participating in regular in seminars and workshops I also engaged in discussing data provided by my colleagues during data analysis sessions which were open to PhD students, something that was very valuable to me as I could experience first hard how other scholars theorize and make sense of their data. I found CRADLE members incredibly open and keen to discuss research, share their thoughts, struggles and inspirations with me. The feedback I received on my work provided me with new ideas that enriched my thinking, it enabled me to reflect on the work I have done to date and gave me new theoretical directions to pursue. Under the guidance of my CRADLE supervisors I drafted a conference paper which I am now developing into a journal publication.

Living in Helsinki was an interesting and rewarding experience. I happened to be there there during dark winter months, October to December. To protect myself from low mood associated with short days and lack of sunlight I followed a Finnish custom – I indulged in sauna culture. Even my University provided accommodation had an on-site sauna. Most exciting experience was taking a dip in the freezing Baltic sea. Equally exciting was being taken out for mushroom and berry picking expeditions by my Finnish friends (buying a pair of wellies was a must). I also had a chance to attend a few Christmas parties where merrymaking included carol singing and sipping ‘Glogi’, a deliciously spicy mulled wine.

I would definitely recommend WRDTC students to visit a research institution in another country.  It expands your horizons both as a researcher and as an individual. For example, you find yourself exposed to a different research culture than that in your home institution. As a result, you develop an international outlook on academia and your place in it. In addition, a chance to connect with scholars from the host institution and take advantage of their international networks can be invaluable; it provides opportunities to meet future collaborators, prospective thesis examiners and future employers. Apart from this substantial professional benefits to such a visit there are also large personal benefits. You experience life in another country and make new friendships which last a lifetime.