The visiting period is considered one of the most-awaited moments in a PhD student life, as it usually provides: the opportunity to focus on personal research activities in a different environment and the support of an external scholar. However, choosing the right professor, the right group of researchers, as well as the hosting institution mostly results in an inevitable challenge. Given the wide range of possibilities available, this article aims to provide a few insights about the PhD visiting period by sharing three different perspectives. Our hope is to help PhD students to prepare and fully enjoy this potentially amazing experience.

Our insiders for this article (which we deeply thank) are:

Liliana Dinis, second year PhD student at Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, who is currently spending a visiting period of two weeks within the Centre for Family business Management, at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano.
Paola Rovelli, Assistant Professor at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, who engaged in two visiting periods abroad during her second year of PhD, one at Copenhagen Business School and the second within the Institute of Strategy, Technology and Organization at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.
Jasper Brinkerink, post-doc researcher at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, who spent two months of his last year of PhD at King’s College in London.

Enjoy the reading!

Which criteria did you use to choose the professor/institution to visit?

Liliana: I was looking for a specific group of researchers working in the family business field as I wanted to collaborate with someone expert on the topic, so to learn as much as I can. Therefore, I would say that I targeted more the professor than the institution itself.

Paola: First of all, it is worth mentioning that I’ve received a great support by my supervisors in choosing the right professors and the right institutions in my field of research, organizational design. The selection criteria have been mainly based on the fit in terms of research interests.

Jasper: I looked for a specific professor who was working on entrepreneurship and innovation in family business and who published papers with specific methodologies I was interested in, plus I actually like London and the idea of spending a couple of months there. You don’t have to close your eyes thinking that you are going to work 24/7 with a professor, as you’ll probably also get to know people and experience a new context, so it is equally important to choose a place where you can both focus, locking yourself in the office, but also enjoy the surrounding environment.

What expectations did you have when you planned your visiting period? Have your expectations been matched?

Liliana: I want to know how a family business centre works, to collaborate with the team and with the leading professor. Moreover, my specific aim is receiving feedback on the data I’m analyzing. Finally, I want to start creating a network within the family business community, to share my research interests and enlarge my perspectives.

Paola: As my first year of PhD was really busy with the teaching and other related activities, my first expectation for the visiting period was to fully concentrate in developing my research. Indeed, the objective of my first visiting was to conclude the data collection, finding some time to clean my data. Luckily this expectation has been matched. The goal of the second visiting period was to finalize my first paper and submit it to a journal. Again, I was able to reach my goal. The only obstacle I found was related to cultural difference, as most of my colleagues used to work from home, so I didn’t really have the chance to connect with them.

Jasper: I wasn’t expecting weeks and weeks of dedication from the professor I was visiting, instead I was looking for some inspiring conversations both with her and with other scholars from the same department. In terms of environment, I established very good relationships with other PhD students there and we had good talks about research.

Which are the best memories from your period abroad? What did you learn?

Liliana: I think presenting my project within a research seminar organized by the Centre for Family Business Management was really useful, I completely changed perspective on my data, and I gathered many precious feedbacks.

Paola: I found interesting to observe the relationship between other PhD students and their supervisors. They were very independent, leaders of their own works, while I was used to receive weekly feedback on very detailed aspects of my research project. Moreover, I enjoyed the social aspect of being part of two new cultures, very different from my own.

Jasper: Even if King College is a very big university, I remember they put everything related to management within one department, ten PhD students working on quite different topics. I did notice that in UK, as a PhD student, you are really considered a student. In contrast, in Netherlands, my own county, you are considered more as an employee, paid as an employee, and you feel as a respected part of the department. Apart from that, I think I’ve learned a lot during the visiting period, not just strictly in research terms, but more about how to navigate the academic world. It was an interesting period for me anyway, as in that period I was closed to publishing my first paper, working on the R&R process, and I received very good tips on how to handle it.

What would you suggest to PhD students in order to fully exploit this opportunity?

Liliana: Timing is crucial! In my case, I already had some data collected, some literature review done and many ideas about the data analysis and the model to be developed. Now, I just need the feedback from someone with relevant experience in the field, especially skilled in qualitative research, able to give me some insight on my project. Additionally, I believe it is important to spend more than two weeks (the period I’m spending abroad) within the visiting institution because it allows to start and finish one project without interrupting it. At the same time, I would suggest to always bring some data, in order to have something to build on without starting from scratch.

Paola: The first suggestion is to find a professor in line with your research interests. Maybe sometimes a second star is better than a superstar, as superstars are usually very busy and it’s not always easy to work with them. My second suggestion is to focus on obtaining the most out of the experience. For example, a very concrete way to engage with other scholars is to get involved into research seminars and to present your own research project, receiving useful feedbacks and quite different perspectives.

Jasper: Depending on the purpose behind the visiting period, I would suggest to carefully choose the right professor. If your goal is to collaborate actively on your project, then I would choose either a young scholar or a heterogeneous group of researchers. Remember that big names are also people with busy agenda. Additionally, I would suggest to go somewhere where the academic system is substantially different from the one you are used to, as, after your PhD, you will have to make choices about your future and it’s good to have your eyes open about the fact that, even within the academic world, there is still quite a bit of variation about how the system works.

Thank you, Liliana, Paola and Jasper, for sharing your experience with the IFERA Community!

 

Carlotta Benedetti
PhD Candidate, Free University of Bozen/Bolzano
IFERA Family Business Content Contributor