"There really is a different depth of interaction and understanding when we are able to meet face-to-face"
Over April-May this year, I’ve been hosted at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Madras as a Visiting Fellow under their Global Exchanges programme. It was a fantastic experience, and as well as working with colleagues there on their beautiful Chennai campus, I managed to squeeze in a whistle-stop tour of some other cities too…
My first week was spent settling into IITM and holding a workshop on how to publish in international academic journals with PhD students in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. I was also making arrangements for a conference, The Pandemic and Urban Governance: State-Society Relationships and Learning from COVID-19, which was the final part of a British Academy-funded project I’ve been running with my colleagues Binitha Thampi, Karen Coelho and Darshini Mahadevia. This was an important opportunity for our team to showcase our work to academic and policy audiences and learn from other related research, and we’re currently drafting a policy brief for India’s National Institute of Urban Affairs to share our findings. The conference was held at Ahmedabad University, and many thanks to Darshini and her team for ensuring that everything ran so smoothly there.
The next stop for me was Kolkata, to meet with Soumyadeep Chattopadyay, a former visiting research fellow at USP Sheffield, and Debjani Dasgupta, a former USP PhD student now working at Birmingham University, to talk about future research ideas. Soumyadeep and Debjani showed me just how much Kolkata has changed since I last visited eight years ago, but perhaps the biggest surprise was meeting up with the tutor who had taught me Bengali when I was starting out as a PhD researcher – it was wonderful to have the chance to say ধন্যবাদ (‘thank you’) to Shanti-da for all the kindness and patience he showed me way back in 1992!
It was then on to Mumbai, to talk about future research plans with colleagues at Tata Institute of Social Sciences and IIT Bombay, as well as to see the hard work done by Sheffield’s Global Exchange team in helping to bring Indian students to Sheffield. It was good to talk to some of our future Undergraduate and Masters students at recruitment fairs there and in Chennai – and I hope I gave some people insights into how we teach here in USP, as well as helping them with their course choices. I also got to catch up with another of my PhD graduates, Vidhya Pancholi, who explained his research on waste recycling in Dharavi, Mumbai. He has just won a post-doctoral fellowship at Lancaster University, and it was good to see one of USP’s former PhD students going on to undertake important research on sustainable cities.
After that, it was back to the calm and tranquillity of the IIT campus in Chennai for a final two weeks of writing with the British Academy team. This was a great chance to move forward with the three main research papers we aim to publish from our project, and also to provide some mentoring for IIT’s PhD students. Although so much of our work can now be done online, there really is a different depth of interaction and understanding when we are able to meet face-to-face, and that is particularly important when building up international relationships for research and teaching. Visiting India has been a vitally important part of my work over the last 30 years as a result, and I’m hoping to be back there in January 2024 to continue and expand these links!
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