Heading to the archives? Be sure to connect with the staff before your arrival.
If you are studying for an advanced degree, and particularly a PhD, you may find it useful to go on a research trip to help with a dissertation or book project. For example, if your area of academic focus is Victorian British literature, a trip to libraries and archives in London will surely be enormously beneficial, or if your focus is on marine biology, an excursion to regions rich in diverse marine wildlife will no doubt be invaluable.
Going away to conduct research can be exciting and educational, but it is important to keep in mind that it is by no means a typical getaway. There are a number of unique things to consider, both in the planning stages and while you are there. Some of the most effective tips for a smooth research trip include:
1. Planning thoroughly
When it comes to planning a research trip, you'll have more to consider than just finding a hotel and booking your accommodation. As explained in an article from Vanderbilt University Library, it is important to investigate places where you can conduct your research – libraries, archives, university campuses – and then plan your time accordingly. For example, you may find that your project necessitates visiting several research locations, so you will need to make sure that you allocate enough time in your trip to get the very most from each place. As noted by the American Historical Association, planning properly also means gathering all the paperwork you will need for travel – your passport, a visa if required, letters from faculty at your university, evidence of funding and anything else you may need. The source also stressed that it is important to book your hotel in advance – don't wait until the last minute or when you arrive. Doing so can lead to problems if you are unable to find anything suitable.
"Try to avoid using your own funds for your research trip, as there will likely be grants available from different organizations."
2. Researching funding
Try to avoid using your own funds for your research trip, as there will likely be grants available from different organizations – the Fulbright Commission, for example – that can help you finance your excursion. The American Historical Association advised applying to multiple organizations, as it's likely that one grant may not be enough to cover everything, particularly if you are heading abroad.
3. Contacting archives in advance
As detailed by The American Historical Association, it is helpful to inform archives and research libraries that you will be coming before you make your trip. This way, librarians and archivists can give you any important information that you may need, such as the rules and guidelines for using special equipment. The source noted that if you detail the scope of your project, some archivists may also do some preparation work before you arrive – finding certain texts, for example.
4. Making detailed notes
Once you have arrived and begun researching, it is important to make extensive notes, with regard to things such as book and article titles, authors, archive reference numbers and so on, Vanderbilt University Library explained.
5. Protecting your critical documents
While traveling it is important to take steps to protect your valuable work. After all, there is always a small risk that your computer will get damaged, lost or even stolen. The best way to keep your work safe, according to Academic Technology, a blog from the College of William & Mary, is to both back it up on a USB stick and save it in the Cloud, via sites such as Google or Dropbox. The source noted that keeping your USB stick away from your laptop, in a different room or bag entirely, adds another layer of security should your laptop get stolen.
6. Being courteous and friendly
It can be easy to get lost in your research, spending hours in the library without speaking with others, but this could end up harming your project more than helping it. As the American Historical Association explained, if you take the time to converse with other researchers – on your lunch break, perhaps – you may be able to get some insight on how best to use the archive's or library's collections – after all, it's likely that some of the researchers will be locals at the institution you are visiting. It is also imperative to be polite and friendly to any staff members you encounter. The source noted that an important mark of courtesy is to greet staff in their native language if you are traveling in a non-English speaking country. Even if you are not familiar with the language, using a simple greeting in the local language is polite.
7. Enjoying yourself
While research should of course be your primary focus, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take some time to enjoy yourself. As Ireland XO explained, many libraries, archives and universities are located close to, if not in city centers, near other attractions. Take a break to explore local stores, coffee shops, museums and any other points of interest that take your fancy. Routine breaks can help you unwind, recharge and return to your work with a clear head and renewed vigor.