In this blog, Julia Funk (Visiting PhD student) shares her experience of visiting another lab.


Julia, PhD student

A research visit abroad is a great opportunity for developing new skills and stepping out of your comfort zone, for example by writing a blog post. In this post, I share my experience of visiting another lab and hope to encourage PhD students who are interested in doing the same.

I am a third-year PhD student at the Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychological Treatment at LMU Munich in Germany. In my PhD, I investigate how repetitive negative thinking (e.g., rumination or worrying) relates to depression and anxiety and test the effects of interventions designed to reduce repetitive negative thinking on mental health outcomes. Whilst this gave me a good understanding of how repetitive negative thinking and depressive mood or anxiety can reinforce each other, I always wanted to learn more about the underlying genetic and environmental factors. At the same time, I was excited by the idea of living and working abroad. So, I started looking for labs that would fit my research interests. Coincidentally, one reason for applying to the EDIT lab was reading this blog, which made the research topics I was interested in approachable, even though I don’t have a background in genetic research. I was thrilled that my application was successful and am very grateful that I got to intern at the EDIT lab for the past three months. Looking back at my research visit at the EDIT lab and an earlier research visit at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge university, these were my main takeaways:

Getting to know a different field of research is a great opportunity

It can make sense to visit a lab that does research on very similar topics and uses the same methods you have been using in your prior research. However, getting to know related, but somewhat different fields of research can also be a great opportunity. For me, it has been fantastic to learn about the genetics of mental health problems during my research stay at the EDIT lab, even though this has not been part of my prior PhD projects. At the beginning, it was of course challenging to formulate research questions and use statistical methods, in which I had little prior experience. But it’s similar to learning a new language: it gets easier each day. Also, working with experts in the field helped me to make progress much faster than I first expected. Broadening my research focus in this way gave me a new perspective on my prior work and lots of new research ideas. The cherry on top is that I can include the paper I have been writing during my research stay in my dissertation.

Applying for a research visit is not complicated

Based on my experience and talking to fellow PhD students who visited other labs, many research groups are open to having visiting PhD students. Usually, a short email where you write about your prior research and why you want to visit the lab is a good start. It is helpful if there have been previous collaborations between the lab where you are doing your PhD and the lab you want to visit or if you can already propose a concrete project for your potential visit. However, neither is necessary for a successful application. In my opinion, emphasizing that you already have acquired a broad set of research skills, are self-motivated, and can work independently will increase your chances as most labs don’t have endless capacity for supervising visiting students. After a positive answer, funding is of course an important question. Luckily, there are lots of funding opportunities for PhD students who want to visit other labs. The easiest way is to look for specific research and traveling stipends that your home university provides.

A concrete plan helps

It is useful to make a concrete and realistic plan of what you want to achieve during you research visit and communicate your plans before you arrive. Prior to my research stay, I met with my soon-to-be colleagues at the EDIT lab online a couple of times, which really helped me to refine my plans. After having a clearer idea of what my project was going to look like, I could already request the data I needed and preregister the analyses while still at home in Munich. Doing this was extra work at the time but, when I arrived in London, I could get started right away.

Living and working in another place is exciting

Next to the obvious fact that a research visit is an excellent academic opportunity, a huge benefit of visiting another lab is that you get to live in a different place for some time. I absolutely loved living in London. There was so much to explore on the weekends and in the evenings, the past three months also kind of felt like a long vacation and even commuting to work was exciting.

All in all, visiting another lab has been a great experience for me, both academically and personally and I can really recommend it to any PhD student toying with the idea. If you want to read more about visiting other labs as a PhD student, see this earlier blog post by Genevieve Morneau-Vaillancourt click here

EDIT Lab guest contributor

Author EDIT Lab guest contributor

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