In the latest CRE blog PhD student Elena Benedetti reflects on her recent study visit to the Toulouse School of Economics
During February and March 2020, I had the opportunity to visit the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) at the University Toulouse Capitole, in the South-West of France. I was able to go following the kind invitation of Prof. Nicolas Treich, whom I met last year at a Centre for Rural Economy seminar. Nicolas is a senior researcher and director of INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), working mainly in environmental, behavioural and animal welfare economics. This experience was funded thanks to the overseas institutional visit scheme offered by my scholarship, the ESRC-NINE DTP. I really recommend every NINE DTP PhD student apply for the same scheme to visit another institution for a few months. ESRC can fund travel and accommodation, and also extend your scholarship, in some instances.
TSE is a world-renowned centre for research in economics, chaired by Nobel laureate Jean Tirole. It works to connect research to policy, in France, Europe and worldwide, and comprises various economic research groups, including applied economics (environmental, food, health), finance, econometrics, public economics, industrial organization and macroeconomics. The centre recently moved to an impressive new building that won the Pritzker prize this year. It was fascinating to study in this modern glass building with terraces, where we could go to have chats and coffee breaks (the coffee was free for everyone). I had a big office just for myself and I could focus very easily on my research. The environment there was very stimulating and, in a way, I was much more motivated to do my work and be constantly focused. Being there allowed me to appreciate more what I am doing for my PhD and be more willing to explore and study new things. I learnt how important it is to do research with people that are passionate about many of the same things as you. It is extremely vital to connect with other researchers and exchange ideas.
Overall, it was a great experience, both for my professional and personal development. My own research benefitted substantially from this visiting period. I believe the suggestions and feedback I received while there will notably improve the quality of my project. Discussions with various academics enabled me to consider new and different perspectives on my research. I met people that implemented very similar micro-simulation model to mine and we listened to and challenged each other. This was essential to correcting some parts of my research, allowing me to achieve better results.
In terms of dissemination, engagement and knowledge exchange, I had the opportunity to present my work and research findings in a seminar in front of experts in environmental, health and food economics, many of whom gave me excellent suggestions and feedback. This was without any doubt a very useful practice for my presentation skills in view of future conferences and my PhD viva.
The best thing about my visit was the opportunity to meet different types of academics and have direct contact with them on a regular basis. Everyone was kind and willing to help, in every moment. The PhD community was very welcoming as well. They informed me about the possibility of attending the job market conference during my final year of my PhD in order to apply for job opportunities. I could talk with them about my issues and concerns and discuss my research at any time. We also had some social events together where we went for drinks and dinner. I really enjoyed this experience because I could talk with everyone about my project, also during lunch time.
The connection between TSE and IAST (Institute of Advanced Study in Toulouse) offered the possibility to exchange multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge among researchers. I could attend one or more seminars each day (where the lunch was always provided), with speakers coming from everywhere. I learnt about new models and new research topics, among other things; every day I spent there was a learning opportunity. In fact, I am still able to attend these seminars online, which means I can continue to learn new things daily.
Some researchers read my working paper and provided me very detailed comments, essential for the improvement of my work, in view of future journal submissions. Also, I introduced to them the new part of my PhD concerning the effects of environmental regulations on trade. It was extremely useful because I was able to get suggestions on how to develop this new project and which direction to follow before starting it.
The city was very beautiful and charming, with nice streets and squares. The walk along the river is one of the best part of the city, and I was able to enjoy it every day on the way from my house to the university. The sunset was amazing, everything painted with pink color, from the houses to the sky. The food and wine was also great, especially the cheese! My favourite was the raclette and the fondue. I also had the possibility to travel around in the weekends.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Toulouse before the actual return date due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I am very satisfied for the overall experience. I managed to do what I planned to do and create some good networks with many researchers in view of my future career. I would like to go back sometime to visit some of the PhD students I met there. Again, I really recommend that everyone consider this opportunity. It is extremely worthwhile, and can help you appreciate your project more, get more exciting ideas and enrich your skills and personal development.