How to Be an International Scholar (Even While Staying Home)

In this guest post, University of Edinburgh PhD researcher Vesna Curlic explains the importance of internationalisation in our research and practice, and gives advice on how to apply a global mindset to our work.

What does it mean to be an international researcher? This, like most questions that academics deal with, is a question that seems simple on first glace but is more nuanced when considered closely. Some cases are obvious: doctoral researchers who move to Scotland from abroad to undertake their research are likely the first type of ‘international researcher’ you think of. But global research is so much more than just doing your PhD in a different country. It’s learning a different language, it’s meeting researchers from other places, it’s visiting internships, it’s archival research or fieldwork in other countries, it’s working on projects with international teams, it’s attending or presenting at international conferences, and so much more. Most of all, I’ve found, it’s about thinking about your project globally.

Because of this broad conceptualisation of internationalisation, I truly believe that there’s an international dynamic to every PhD project, regardless of field, methods, or researcher identity. The coronavirus pandemic has made this fact abundantly clear, despite restricting international travel. We now work across time zones and in different countries without even leaving our desks. In any given week, I can attend meetings and seminars in multiple different countries and time zones. This, along with my internship with SGSAH about internationalisation, has made me realise just how inherently international PhDs are.

A book lies open on a wooden table, turned to map of the United States of America that spans two pages. A golden compass sits open on the right-hand page.
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

If you’re interested in internationalising your project without leaving your desk, here are some tips:

Learn a new language (or keep practising one you already know):

Language learning is a huge part of becoming an international scholar, because you broaden the horizons for who you can communicate with. In a lot of countries, having a functional understanding of a second language is a requirement for the PhD. Even if your research is conducted primarily in English, knowing the basics of a second language can help you communicate your research more widely or allow you to understand scholarship not written in English. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of the pandemic grappling with Russian on Duolingo and while I’m still far from reading journal articles in Russian, it does help me feel like a more globally-minded scholar.

Forge an international network:

So much of becoming an international scholar is just finding the right international communities for you. I have personally found that the best way to do that is through your research. For example, find organisational bodies for your subject in other countries and attend conferences/seminars with those organisations (which has become significantly easier in the pandemic, with everything being online). If you’re able to present at these sorts of international events, even better! Academic work can really benefit from an international perspective, helping you think about your subject in a completely different way. Even if this isn’t possible to you, using platforms like Twitter to follow and engage in conversations with international scholars can help you form a more international research network.

Think about avenues for collaboration:

PhD projects in the arts and humanities tend to be very independent endeavours, but a crucial part of thinking about your project globally is thinking about your project collaboratively. Once you’ve identified people who might be interested in your research, you can start thinking about ways to collaborate. For example, you could seek out another PhD student who is working on a similar subject to you but in a different geographic context and propose co-writing an article or collaborating on a public engagement project. It can be extremely valuable to work with researchers in other academic systems, who might have different experiences with or conceptualisations of their PhDs. As a bonus, you can often find small pots of funding for these types of smaller projects, especially ones that have a public engagement aspect.

So far, I’ve mostly focused on things that you can do to make your research more international, but I want to turn to what SGSAH can do to help you. Right now, SGSAH is developing and expanding its internationalisation strategy. We’re figuring out what areas we want to focus on and what our priorities should be. You can have your say in this process! Until May 13, you can answer the survey linked here to help decide the priority areas for SGSAH’s internationalisation strategy. If you’re at all interested in making your research more international, please do take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey and have your opinions heard!

Vesna Curlic is a PhD researcher in History at the University of Edinburgh. Her project considers migration to Britain in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, with a focus on the medicalisation of the immigration system, as well as the healthcare experiences of migrants and refugees. More broadly, her research interests include modern and historical immigration law, medicine, disability, public health, and the intersection of those subjects with race/ethnicity. Vesna is also currently doing an internship at the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, focusing on internationalisation in doctoral education. She splits her time between Edinburgh and her hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Feature photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you would like to write a guest post for the SGSAH blog, email

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