On March 4, 2021, an audience from around the world gathered on zoom to attend the International Research Mobility Symposium. This virtual event was organized by Carleton International and made possible thanks to the contribution of the federal government as part of the International Education Strategy (2019-2024). The event was designed to align with the objectives of the university’s new International Strategic Plan, which sets a path to further enhancing Carleton’s global impact and to better support the capacity of faculty and students to engage internationally.

The day was nothing short of a success with approximately 200 people in attendance, including representatives from consular offices, funding and government agencies, and NGOs. This strong interest speaks to the importance of international research mobility and its increasing presence in academic life.

Divided into several sessions, the symposium featured students who came to Ottawa to study, as well as Carleton students who went abroad. Each speaker presented their projects, while discussing the many benefits of conducting international research. In addition, three esteemed professors—Dr. Fraser Taylor, Dr. Artur Demchuk, and Dr. Dirk De Bièvre—were gracious enough to participate.

The event also introduced attendees to different types of available funding and mobility opportunities. Students coming to or from Carleton can obtain funding through several agencies, including: Global Affairs Canada, Mitacs, and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.

“Over the past five to ten years, there has been a significant growth in mobility programs, both in terms of the number of opportunities offered, as well as the number of researchers applying and awarded,” remarked Sylvie Jasen, the International Projects Coordinator for Carleton International.

One such researcher is Fernando Barcellos, a Master student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who came to Carleton in 2018 as an ELAP scholarship recipient. Barcellos spoke about his time in Ottawa, placing special attention on how MacOdrum Library was able to offer all kinds of English language sources that were necessary to complete his Master’s thesis. He also emphasized how his international experience helped in his career advancement back in Brazil.

“Having Carleton on my CV was just brilliant,” Barcellos said in reference to obtaining a job at an expert network firm. “Having research experience in financial regulation… from Carleton was fundamental for me to take this position and then to [later] jump into a larger firm. Nowadays, I am a financial product analyst… so Carleton was fundamental for me to get this job and to be well set and well placed in my career.”

International research mobility is also an opportunity to expand our individual networks and develop diverse partnerships. Such successful collaborations often shape our academic capabilities and leave long-lasting impressions.

Theodora Aryee is a PhD student from the University of Ghana who came to Carleton in 2019 through the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship – Advanced Scholars Program to help develop follow-up sustainability plans.

She said: “What I loved about the QES experience was the interdisciplinary approach. I was… the only business person in my group. I had computer scientists, engineers, and geographers. These discussions on climate change sometimes were new to me as a business person and so that has also spurred my work in a positive way, to look at these issues also from a perspective [of someone other than] a business person.”

Not only does international research mobility inform our research, but it influences our overall worldview, challenging us to look at issues, as Aryee noted, from different perspectives. This sentiment was shared by other speakers who came to Ottawa, as well as Carleton students who went abroad.

Noah S. Schwartz is a PhD Candidate at Carleton University whose research is about how storytelling shapes policy. Thanks to funding from both SSHRC and Mitacs, he spent part of 2019 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, US, to find out how the National Rifle Association tells stories in order to build a political community of gun owners.

“Before conducting my international research project, I didn’t really understand why anyone would want a gun… During my fieldwork, I met a lot of interesting people who defied stereotypes and complicated the way I thought about American gun culture.”

He continued by saying: “We often talk about how globalization has made the world smaller and allows us to connect with people from across the globe. This very symposium is proof of that. But social media, algorithms, and the internet has divided us in different ways. In an era of increasing political division, it is harder to engage with people we disagree with or who are different from us. My international field research gave me the opportunity to reach across that divide and engage with people who are very different from my friends, family members, and colleagues here at home. This experience gave me a better window into American gun culture and the advocacy that this culture inspires.”

Alexandra Lamb, a Junior Policy Analyst for the federal government and a PhD student at Carleton whose research concerns reproductive rights in Ireland, echoed Schwartz’s remarks about the transformative power of intercultural experiences.

“For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel or study abroad, it’s an incredibly enriching and invaluable experience,” she said, speaking about her time in Ireland in 2019. “You learn a lot about yourself, as well as the world… I had the opportunity to work with such diverse scholars, academics, people from the community, [and] activists.”

Lamb also spoke to the benefits of physically being in another location to conduct research: “There are lots of scenic areas that were actually really crucial to the whole process, because it gave me a lot of time to do a lot of self-reflection, which I think is very important for… researchers to understand what we’re learning, what we’re experiencing, and how we’re processing that internally. And that helped me a lot with my research, so I became much more open to different perspectives, especially because the topic was very highly sensitive and polarizing.”

Earlier in the day, Dr. Dirk De Bièvre, professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Antwerp, expanded on this idea.

“Social interaction is not only a question of physical presence, it is also a question of emotional presence,” he said. “Being close to each other is something you can only achieve when you have physical mobility… We need to be emotionally involved with each other in order to be able as humans to learn from [one another]. Academia, scholarship, intellectual curiosity can only work if we really engage with each other also emotionally… So it is absolutely crucial that international mobility is nurtured.”

Of course, the current global health crisis poses unprecedented challenges when it comes to international travel. Numerous restrictions have long since been put in place, effectively putting a stop to mobility; however, Carleton has already begun to adapt, launching new initiatives to counteract the ramifications of COVID-19.

“Carleton welcomes over 130 visiting researchers annually. This past year as the pandemic hit… and brought international travel to a halt, we quickly pivoted our program to include virtual visits,” commented Yvonne Clevers, the International Research Agreements and Mobility Coordinator for Carleton International. This new Virtual Visiting Scholar Program gives select researchers the opportunity to conduct research from abroad.

The International Research Mobility Symposium itself represents one way we are working to overcome the pandemic.

“This symposium stands as a testament to [our] continued commitment in championing internationalization,” said Dr. Karen Schwartz, the Associate Vice-President (Research and International) at Carleton University. “Even though we can’t be together in person, having people connect from all over the world helps keep the spirit of international mobility alive.”

Recordings of all sessions are available to watch here.

Nathaniel Whelan
Outreach Officer, Carleton International