CERGE-EI Mobility: To Go, or Not To Go?

I wonder how you would answer this question.  As for me, there is only one correct answer. Benjamin Franklin once said, “When in doubt, don’t.” I would rephrase his wise words in the following way, “If you have any doubts about whether to go on mobility, don’t. Just go!” By sharing my mobility experience with you, I want to explain why I think so.

Having decided to go on mobility, you need to think carefully about when to go. Usually, our students go when they have a research idea and a more-or-less developed methodology. They may also go only after they get preliminary results from their research. My short-term mobility to the University of Pennsylvania was after the Dissertation Proposal Workshop.

Let me say a few words about DPW, as they will explain my motives of going on mobility at such an early stage. One of the most important factors in passing DPW successfully is to talk to as many professors as you can. Personally, I am the kind of person who prefers not to talk about ideas and plans here and there. I would rather work silently and share my results once I get them. This is not the way things are being done in academia. This was my lesson from the DPW stage.

After the DPW, I could have told myself, “OK, I talked to all our professors, and they gave me a lot of advice. Now, finally, I can lock myself in the office and begin my real research.” Instead, I went on mobility. Why? Although CERGE-EI is like our second home and our professors devote a lot of their time and energy to us, we are a relatively small program. Research visits to other universities give you a great opportunity to talk to the professors whose research lies exactly in the same field as yours. Even more, you can meet the human beings hidden behind surnames and initials you cited in your proposal!

Going on mobility gives you invaluable feedback on your ideas and results. Moreover, it develops your communication and presentation skills. When you meet professors at the university you are visiting, you should be precise and able to explain your idea within a limited time. To get useful responses on your research, you really don’t want professors to be bored or lost. They already have much to do, like their own research. Not to lose their attention, try to explain your ideas in simple words. As they use to say, everything of genius is simple. So make it simple, make it genius. You probably realize that talking to external professors is not the same thing as talking to our professors. Simply because our professors know us, we are their creation to some degree, they are eager to devote much more time to us. Being easily understood is the way to successful communication with all people you meet for the first time.

During my mobility, I also talked to many American students. I noticed one very interesting thing about them: they are very confident in what they are doing. For me, it was a bit unusual. I always look for perfection and end up wasting time searching for a better idea instead of developing the ones I already have. When I shared this observation with a professor at UPenn, he commented that, as Donald A. Schön (1983) shows in his book, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, 80-90% of prosperous business entrepreneurs succeeded with ideas different from those with which they came to the market. Instead, their success results from modifying original ideas after trials, mistakes, and failures.

To sum up, here are two pieces of advice for your mobility based on my experience at UPenn. First, go and talk with everyone who you think can help you with your research. Don’t interpret any negative comments as a criticism, but rather try to incorporate these comments into your future work. This is the way to advance in your dissertation-writing process. Second, be open to new contacts. Those students I met who inspired me were extraordinary and unique. The people you will meet will be unique as well. They will make you see the world from a different perspective.

My last point about mobility is that you can discover the country that you are visiting. Of course, you are supposed to work a lot, but allowing yourself one, sometimes even two days a week for cultural and touristic experiences will refresh and inspire you for more productive research. That worked out with me, and I am sure that it can work out with you, too. On one of my days off from research, I went to Independence Hall in Philadelphia and bought a postcard featuring the most famous of Benjamin Franklin’s quotations: “When in doubt, don’t.”  The one that I used to answer the question whether to go on mobility at the beginning of this story.

Iuliia Brushko, 3rd year CERGE-EI student


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