Dr Julie Robinson

Focus: A Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya combining community service and teaching support.

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Professor Kevin Wainwright

Focus: Attending conferences and visiting laboratories to maintain awareness of current activity so that realistic research proposals can be devised that are likely to attract external funding.

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Dr Joe Shapter

Focus: A short research program in Canada resulting in the writing of several papers.

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Associate Professor Elizabeth Handsley

Focus: A research program in France.

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Dr Julie Robinson

School of Psychology

“The whole exercise was a lesson in humility.”

Focus

A Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya combining community service and teaching support.

Planning to go

Before setting out, Julie established some objectives she wished to have had achieved by her return.

Her objectives included:

  • conducting research on child refugees while working with PhD students
  • conducting research to inform a new topic in Psychology that she was developing dealing with refugee children
  • doing some community service (as per promotion requirements) by teaching informally in refugee camp
  • acting as conduit for Sudanese people in Adelaide.

She also conducted literature reviews and Internet searches to investigate conventions and setting and established links with on-site hosts and contacts.

The experience

After a very long trip, with many aeroplane transfers, she arrived in a very hot Kenya.

The refugee camp is a long-term transit village of approximately the size of Mount Gambier, without established day-care facilities or schools.

Facilities are very rudimentary as there is no electricity or water on tap. Child-minding facilities are not for purpose of work-relief but rather to assist mothers in basic day-to-day survival tasks such as water collection, which may take two hours.

Julie was to work in these facilities and offer some teaching. This was not without some drawbacks.

Teaching was often interrupted by weather, as shelters did not offer protection. In addition, rain meant that classes were cancelled as camp workers had to be escorted from the camp before rivers became unpassable.

People who work at the camp don’t live on-site. Julie assumed that workers had free access and could walk around at will. However, if there is no Kenyan escort, workers aren’t allowed access in or out.

The refugee workers were not located in a central area, meaning that Julie was reliant on other forms of transport.

Advice for others

1. Don’t assume anything

Julie assumed that what her on-site contact had told her was sufficient, and the contact assumed Julie had an equitable understanding of cultural and social expectations and conventions.

For example, despite the warning that clothing should not be too revealing, as the Sudanese refugees follow a strict Muslim cultural coding, Julie found that her interpretation of ‘not revealing’ differed to those at the camp.

Essentially, a woman’s form should be hidden. Julie’s cotton shirts and trousers did not make the grade - in spite of the intense heat the material was not heavy enough and the style was inappropriate. This resulted in limited acceptance and reduced her capacity to interact with the refugees.

2. Be prepared for health issues

Preparation of food and water differed to that experienced in Australia, which affected her health and her experience.

3. Be flexible and adaptable

While it is important to plan, particularly in light of later reporting requirements, it is equally important to be very flexible, as security warnings and availability of hosting contacts may change very quickly.

Julie was unsure until her departure whether she was going to be allowed to go.

4. Expect frustration

Part of Julie’s research was to establish whether traditional Western teaching methodologies would work in this setting.

Teaching materials she took with her was based on an email that children she would be working with were mentally challenged. She found that was not the case and so the materials were totally unsuited. Julie spent much of the time that she had allocated for teaching, redrafting the material.

Keeping the required travel diary was difficult as much time was spent en route, and the pro forma does not really accommodate the interminable airport lounge waiting.

5. OSP professional development

Consider undertaking this type of OSP early in your career to support your teaching or community service.

The learning

Julie’s chief learning was regarding how to behave in accordance with very different cultural rules.

The people of the Sudanese refugee camps have a socially-based society, differing from Julie’s culture of a rule-based society. This emerged particularly as a vital part of the teaching style. Teaching is a social activity based on an interactive communal exchange rather than on a didactic teacher focus.

Julie called her experience 'a spectacular failure':

A failure, in that the careful planning and preparation appeared to come to nothing.

Yet spectacular in that, despite a feeling of frustration, Julie was able to report back to the Sudanese community in Adelaide and has a wealth of experience to enliven her teaching and her research in the future.

Professor Kevin Wainwright

Focus

Attending conferences and visiting laboratories to maintain awareness of current activity so that realistic research proposals can be devised that are likely to attract external funding.

Planning to go

Kevin was to participate in two international conferences to be held only nine days apart, the first in Cairns and the second in Merida, Mexico.

He took advantage of:

  • the need to travel to Mexico
  • the short time between the two conferences
  • the fact that Cairns was geographically en-route to Mexico

to extend two separate conference leaves into an OSP Professional Experience program by including visits to laboratories.

As a result of the time saved by travelling on from Cairns, rather than returning to Adelaide and then leaving for Mexico a few days later, it was possible to schedule one of the laboratory visits between the conferences.

The experience

Although over 30% of the program was spent travelling, it was still an extremely worthwhile experience.

At the conferences, Kevin participated by:

  • delivering presentations
  • either chairing a session or attending a planning meeting for future conferences

He also met with other researchers in his field.

During the laboratory visits, he presented seminars and visited senior staff. Kevin was able to have discussions concerning his research work, teaching topics and the possible renewal of collaborative work.

Advice for others

1. Keep in touch with what is happening

For anyone competing seriously in research, it is essential to attend relevant conferences in order to:

  • remain appraised of the international activity that is taking place and
  • interchange ideas with other researchers in your field.

2. Time your visits

Don't go to other universities during their long vacation periods. Staff will generally not be available.

The learning

Kevin found planning his OSP problematic because, although a short OSP normally requires only two months' notice, this particular program required a longer lead time.

As short OSPs need to mesh in with the teaching program, this case proved difficult as the teaching program was not known until later.

Although Kevin has undertaken several OSPs, he was unclear about the amount of recreation that could be taken and its affect on fringe benefits tax.

Although the travel diary mentions fringe benefits tax, this is not applicable to an OSP.

Within the constraints of the OSP, time off for recreation is permitted equivalent to your normal work.

Dr Joe Shapter

School of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences

“Preparation is most important.”

Focus

A short research program in Canada resulting in the writing of several papers.

Planning to go

The program involved expansion of existing experimental work on which Joe was working in collaboration with the host institution.

Preparation during the various stages of the application included:

  • informal discussions within the Cost Centre prior to the formal application. Although the OSP was for two weeks only, staffing problems meant that it had to be scheduled for the mid-year break
  • in this case, contact with the host institution was established already
  • application for a grant, in which the host institution was involved
  • discussions with the host institution on the availability of an office and computer
  • discussions with the host institution that equipment was available and working - essential with such a short program.

Advice for others

1. Forward planning

Preparation is most important, from pre-application discussions with your Cost Centre and your contact to formal arrangements.

2. Think of every contingency before you go

  • Discuss with your host institution the facilities which you need, such as an office or computer, so that you can make arrangements if they are not provided.
  • If conducting experiments, check equipment is available and working.

The learning

Joe was unsure of the distinction between an OSP and leave.

An OSP is leave of absence with salary and is distinct from normal leave entitlements, which accrue while you are on OSP.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Handsley

School of Law

“A growth experience.”

Focus

A research program in France.

The experience

Elizabeth arrived in Bourdeaux with her two children only to find her sponsor had deemed her accommodation unsuitable and cancelled it, without advising Elizabeth. Consequently, she had to stay in an hotel until she found an apartment.

On finding one, she then lost a day as she had to organise insurance which, in Australia, is the responsibility of the landlord.

Advice for others

1. Don't assume anything

Elizabeth assumed that her sponsor would offer the same as what Flinders would offer.