Going "on-loan" in academia
So what happened to Joe Hart while he was away? Was the loan inconsequential, would he have naturally achieved these heights regardless of his situational change? I would be tempted to disagree. New situations provide an opportunity to break old habits and perceptions of your limitations. Self-perception – as Stefan Hormuth writes in his book The Ecology of the Self: Relocation and Self-Concept – can result from “behaviour [that] has been displayed repeatedly and thus become routinized [habitual] ... if no control over behaviour is perceived, its causes can be attributed to oneself.” In other words, if we continually repeat behaviours which reinforce perceptions of our limitations, we may believe that this is just who we are. Hormuth then describes how relocation (or in our case, going on-loan) can provide a change in the routine - a shift in the person-environment relationship – which can facilitate “self-concept change”.
In perhaps a less – yoga meditation on mountaintops, riding naked with wild alpacas – sort of way, I experienced something of the sort during my time on a visit to another lab. This opportunity came about when my multiple prospective emails to PIs in my field finally paid off, and suddenly, as well as something to work on, I managed to secure some funding for a visit too. I met people who had exciting new ideas and different ways of working, inspiring me to move forwards on a few of my own, dormant, ideas. By day, I was working with others in the lab on a nice collaborative project, and by night, at the guesthouse I was staying in, I was excitedly compiling a bunch of figures that I’d been sitting on from my summer experiments. I summarised the figures and their findings in a quick “Results & Discussion” section for my supervisor. The project went from a lonely figure and heaps of illegible R code, to a results/discussion with implications and future outlook to boot!
Following some good advice I got while I was away, I changed my perception of the supervisor/student relationship to a model more fitting of two scientific collaborators. And just how a collaborator would not wait until a result was pristine before sending it over, I realised that it’s good to throw the significant steps in your progress on the table. That way the both of you can start discussing the results, and thinking about appropriate further tests, or even which journal to go for! We now have the whole manuscript in draft form, barely a month later.
This might shock you, but self-concept change upon translocation is not a phenomenon exclusive to football and academia ;-) My partner (an artist) who has been bored endlessly with the “amazing” story of Joe Hart, tells me that artists who get stuck in their ways often relocate temporarily to break habitual cycles in their practice. Have you moved before, say to a new institution, and been confronted with major change yourself? Given the apparent universality of the benefits of temporary or permanent relocation, I expect I will hear about this again from others who have experienced similar things to what I have.
So, if you get the opportunity to go – I say go! Explore a new place; meet some new people; go kayaking on the Rhine. You might just come back with fresh perspectives – or four golden gloves.
Dan Sankey is a PhD student in Collective Ecology at Royal Holloway, University of London. Follow him on twitter @Sankey_Dan
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