Archives for : June 2016

Boundary Crossing: for the Love of Research  0

crossing-a-lineLately, I have been occupied with the concept of boundary crossing. The first (and not the least) reason is, that within my own PhD, boundary crossing could provide me with a useful concept to look at the linkage between research and design activities in an educational context. The other, main reason is that my partner and I are literally boundary crossing (or actually, border crossing) at the moment, and the reason is: research. To be more specific, we are now crossing a physical boundary (called North Sea) as well as a symbolic boundary (Brexit), separating The Netherlands from the UK, since my partner moved to London for his first post-PhD postdoc job.

Boundary crossing is defined as “negotiating and combining ingredients from different contexts to achieve hybrid situations’’ (Engeström et al., 1995, p. 319). These boundaries can be crossed by people (called “brokers”), but also by objects (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011a). I think this theory might not only prove to be of use for my research, but also perfectly sums up my personal situation right now. We are combining ingredients from different situations (eg. living in The Netherlands and living in the UK) to achieve a hybrid situation in which my partner and I can still see each other and live with each other regularly, smoothly moving between these two countries.

However, we are still learning to be brokers, still learning how to optimally cross that boundary and facing difficulties while doing so. I think many researchers can identify with the challenges one faces while working and living abroad. It is very common to gain some research experience abroad while doing your PhD, this is also an activity very much encouraged here at ICLON.


If you have worked or lived abroad, what were your experiences? What things did you find helpful (or not)?

Below are some of my experiences:


  1. Be prepared for the idea. When you’re in research, especially certain fields of scientific research, research jobs are not so easy to get within a small country like The Netherlands. There might be far more opportunities in other countries. No one tells you this when you start an academic study, but I wish I had known when I was still studying Biology. It really was a surprise to me that staying in The Netherlands is not self-evident when choosing for certain research professions.
  2. Make good agreements with your partner/family. It is much easier to go overseas if you can see eye to eye with your loved ones, and not dragging along a reluctant partner. For example, we agreed to Skype every day (be sure to buy enough internet data for Skype! We made that mistake) and see each other every two weeks, while taking turns in flying to The Netherlands or the UK.
  3. Money issues. Be sure you have an adequate amount of saving money before moving to another country. This whole operation can be quite costly, if the company or university you are working for does not reimburse your flight or moving costs. We also had to spend some money on furniture in our London apartment, since we could not move whole closets to England by car (and Ikea in England is much more expensive!).
  4. Socializing. If you’re moving to work abroad, it is very important to get to know some people to build a social network while you’re there. This will make your stay much easier and much more pleasant. Get to know your colleagues, go to borrels, maybe join a club or sportsteam. This is of course also very important for the partner staying home 🙂
  5. Sightseeing. While you’re in another country, why not play the tourist for a few times and plan trips to go sightseeing. I have seen sides of London that I otherwise would never have seen, because of this move. And we are planning to see a lot more.


I hope, as I progress in the boundary crossing literature for my research, I will also become a more experienced broker myself in real life. And who knows, maybe in a few years it will be me crossing a boundary for research…?


telephone cell









Airplane & telephone: boundary objects…?






Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Learning at the boundary: An introduction. International Journal of Educational Research, 50(1), 1-5.

Engeström, Y., Engeström, R., & Kärkkäinen, M. (1995). Polycontextuality and boundary crossing in expert cognition: Learning and problem solving in complex work activities. Learning and Instruction, 5, 319–336.

Small is beautiful: enjoy a national conference  0

The Onderwijs Research Dagen (ORD) took place in Rotterdam from Wednesday May 25th until Friday May 27th. I have made some progress towards graduation since the beginnings of my project in 2013 (time is flying!). I still feel that this national conference is a great learning experience for me as a PhD. Generally speaking, national conferences have some advantages for novice researchers in comparison with the larger ones abroad. Here’s why I’m enthusiastic about national conferences.


The very beginning: attend the preconference

The ORD (as other conferences) has preconference workshops tailored towards learning needs of PhD’s in Belgium and the Netherlands. Topics include academic writing, managing your supervisors, writing grant proposals and preparing your defense. I’ve visited similar sessions at international conferences as well. However, preconference workshops in a national conference pay specific attention to the Dutch and Flemish contexts, which directly apply to our educational context. Where else would you learn to avoid writing Dunglish with your peers?


Opportunities to close a gap with educational practice

Some might feel that educational research has a strong focus on theory. This may not always resonate with teaching experiences in practice. My experiences are that at a national conference you’ll meet more teachers, policy makers or educational managers than you would at a large conference. This means you could further discuss the practical relevance of your work. It also might help you to explore perspectives for your life after PhD.


Share the good stuff

When you’re designing your studies it can be very helpful to join a national conference, even without presenting. Chances are that presentations inspire you to use instruments and methods which are developed to suit the Dutch educational context. This makes it easy for you to join discussions during the conference, since you’re familiar with education in the Netherlands (sometimes I find it hard to immediately understand studies in foreign contexts) and to relate this to your own project. This could also provide opportunities to work together with colleagues relatively nearby.


Prevent yourself from being thrown in at the deep end

Besides a limited travel time to a national conference, it is nice to hear about topics being investigated in other institutes. This helped me, as a novice, to grasp the width of the field (here: higher education) without being overwhelmed by the amount of presentations. My studies are about research integrated into teaching at university which is also emphasized in Dutch universities of applied sciences. I’ve learned a lot about this at conferences as the ORD. Moreover, it is very likely that you’re able to go to a national conference annually within your PhD. This enables you to keep up with each other over a longer period of time.


For these reasons I would say that ‘the larger the party, the better’ has nothing to do with the number of people invited! Here you can read about Saskia’s experiences attending an international conference. Thank you for reading this blog!

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