I’ve learned a lot during my month in Sweden. First, the important stuff. The Swedes take their coffee breaks very seriously, and the cardamom buns are legendary. They are even better than the Brits at queuing, but have a surprisingly anarchic approach to cycling: bikes jostle for position alongside pedestrians on the pavements.
Though I heard a lot during my visit about the unravelling of the famous social consensus, Sweden still feels like a well-ordered, egalitarian place, with investment in public services and infrastructure visible at every turn. I’ll write a separate blog about my impressions of Swedish climate politics, which in some senses can be seen as an extension of that social contract. Here, though, I want to talk more generally, about the benefits of study visit like mine.
The headline is this: If you have a chance for a visit or exchange, grab it with both hands. It’s been more useful than I ever imagined to have a bit of time, space and distance from my normal working life (both at Lancaster University and my other work). Here’s why I found it so useful:
A license to be curious
The purpose of the visit was quite loose: to develop contacts and connections; and to develop my work through dialogue with academics at Lund University (where I was based) and elsewhere. Basically, it gave me a license to be curious, and to chat with people from very different perspectives, including natural scientists, economic historians, political scientists and government advisers, to name a few. This is something that you could do in your home institution, but somehow never get round to: it’s easier and more rewarding to do elsewhere. The result was a much clearer idea of how my work and approach fits into the wider picture.
Polishing my pitch
During the month, I presented my work seven times in different formal settings (seminars or workshops), and several times a day at informal meetings. Doing this in such an intensive burst really helped me to focus on the core message of my research and its findings. I think (hope) that it’s sharpened my argument a lot.
Time for reflection
Last, there was something magical about the combination of being somewhere different for a sustained amount of time, but at the same time thinking about work. I made connections that I hadn’t made before; read stuff that I wouldn’t normally read. I leave with a clear picture of what I’m going to do next, as well as bucketloads of ideas for future projects. Watch out Sweden, I may well be back.
So a big thank you to my hosts at CEC and the political science department; all those who I met; and to the ESRC for being far-sighted enough to encourage such trips through the NWDTC programme. And to anyone dithering about taking the time out for an exchange – dither no more. Whether Sweden or elsewhere, it’s bound to be useful, in ways you probably could never predict.