27th February 2019

By Ellen Van Damme, visiting PhD student from the Leuven Institute of Criminology, University of Leuven

I dedicate this blogpost to the enriching experience of academic exchange, with one clear message: get out there and take the opportunities! I was given the opportunity of a second visit to the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) Glasgow University site, thanks to the SCCJR International Mobility Fund and I hope to welcome SCCJR colleagues in the University of Leuven over the coming years (yes, we do have the best beers, as was tasted and approved by SCCJR PhD researcher Luis Reyes – or that is at least the freedom of interpretation I take from his blogpost).

The exchange between institutions gave me the opportunity to rethink my visions on criminology through a different lens, analyse my data from another perspective, and draw on new insights for my future field research. The feedback that I received via informal chats over a cup of tea, lunch in one of the close-by coffee shops or student restaurants, or during a working lunch where I presented my preliminary research data, was invaluable.

What was maybe the most valuable direct impact on my PhD, was the discovery of the writing groups. During one of my first meetings with my co-supervisor, Dr Mo Hume she gave me a clear wake-up call: you need to start writing! Being so busy with analysing my data from previous fieldwork and already thinking about my next field visit to Honduras, I kind of pushed the whole writing process to my last year of PhD. It became clear that I would never finish in time and Mo gave me a very valuable mantra: “the best PhD is a finished PhD”. In search for a way to start writing in a more structured way, Kirsty Deacon, a fellow PhD student based at SCCJR, invited me to one of the writing group sessions she organised one Friday morning. I hesitated at first, as I could not imagine being able to concentrate and bring something meaningful on paper while being in a group, but after the first session it felt safe to say that it was the best thing that could have happened to me! Yes, I am a PhD nerd, this is what we get excited about in life. I went from not writing anything for months (actually, the last chapter I had written was also drafted in Glasgow), to writing one paragraph after the other. I was so excited about it, that I even enrolled in another writing group, to which Donna MacLellan was so kind to introduce me. Back in Leuven, I introduced the writing group idea and I must say that it was a huge success. Some colleagues were so inspired by it that at some point we organised writing group sessions every single day of the week!

Ellen gave a presentation of her research during one of SCCJR’s Working Lunches. Here she discovered Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-Bru. 

In terms of my experience of the city, being back in Glasgow felt like as if nothing had changed, or had it? Cars would still try to run you over (during my previous research stay in 2017 my flatmate saved me from almost being turned into a smashed frog that has become one with the road), Neil Cornish would still offer me more tea then my kidneys could absorb, and every day would bring new conversations, experiences and pleasant encounters. However, something felt different, a feeling that resonated in my encounters with people in the street and talks in the pubs. I noticed more young white people living on the streets asking for money. This is something you would barely see in cosmopolitan Brussels, where I live, let alone in spotless Leuven, where my university is based. In addition to that, I heard more complaints and debate about the political situation and its responsibility for the rising inequality. And strangely, my SIM card (which works all over the world, even in remote Honduras where I conduct field research) did not have any connection whatsoever in Scotland. I could not help but wonder: is this Brexit creeping in?

Overall, my research visit to the SCCJR was yet again an inspiring and enriching experience. I would go back any time. If not for the outstanding academic environment and its people, then for its stunning surrounding nature. Did you know that it is always sunny in Glasgow?