Reflections from Glasgow

Reflections from Glasgow

Deepa Pullanikkatil

I believe it was serendipity that lead me to work at University of Glasgow this year. Two years ago, an unexpected e-mail from Mia Perry, a lecturer and leader of many projects at University of Glasgow came into the mailbox of “Abundance” a non-profit organization in Malawi which I co-founded with some friends in 2016. She was searching for organizations working in Malawi and had stumbled across our website. Since then, Abundance became part of the “Sustainable Futures in Africa” network, an inter-disciplinary network of academicians and practitioners in UK and Africa working across disciplines for making research more relevant for the developing world.  Through this network I got an opportunity to do a secondment at University of Glasgow for a few months early this year, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The time I spent at Glasgow was filled with interesting meetings at the University. But I also could enjoy some solitude, which gave me a chance to reflect on my experience. During my reflections, I jotted down five things I learnt and I am happily sharing them with you:

  1. The leap of faith

I was fully aware that to some extend I was jumping into the unknown as I agreed to take up the consultancy and residency at Glasgow. I was to connect researchers at Glasgow with organizations and researchers in Africa and also shape their research to be more development oriented and appropriate for the developing country context. While I had worked in Africa for over 17 years, I had not done this kind of consultancy before. However, when I looked within, I had faith and the work “felt right”. I became conscious that this is the work I love and am passionate about, so saying “yes” was easy. Furthermore, the opportunity came through Mia, whom I trust. The work went smoothly, particularly because I was working with a fantastic colleague Lynn McCorriston who went out of her way to ensure that the work and meetings went smoothly and that my stay was super comfortable. I feel satisfied that I made a contribution and I learnt that it’s okay to take the leap of faith.

  1. The power of networks

The networks I have made in my professional and personal life have always supported me over the years. Because I spend so much time in my work, I find that my professional colleagues become my good friends and mentors. The LEAD Network is one such network where I have mentors and friends in Malawi and around the world. Indeed, during the consultancy, I linked the University of Glasgow with former colleagues, organizations such as LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa as well as members of the LEAD Fellows network, who, as a result would be undertaking collaborative projects with the University of Glasgow in the near future. In some of the projects, I am involved too, hence I would get a chance to work with people I love, what an amazing blessing from networking!

  1. Making most of circumstances

The period I was resident at Glasgow, I witnessed a once in 33 years snow storm called “The Beast from the East”. Some reports said it was the coldest month of March in 100 years in the UK. I had hoped to see some snow, but being snowed in for three days was not exactly what I wished for. It would have been easy to brood and indulge in some self-pity or cabin fever, especially for someone like me who is used to the moderate and sunny weather of southern Africa. But, I decided to embrace the situation and following the hourly weather updates, I took a chance to step out when it was safe and soak in the beauty of the snowy cityscape. As a result, I got some stunning photographs and videos. Lynn and I braved the cold and visited the People’s Museum and Botanical Garden, which was just spectacular surrounded by snow all around.

  1. Change work routines

At Glasgow, I got a new routine of walking about 40 minutes to work every day, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Leaving a bit early from my apartment to explore a new route every day, I got a chance to appreciate the architecture and the many historical buildings in Glasgow. I also enjoyed people watching at Kelvingrove Park which was en-route to work. The cute dogs taken on walks by their owners, the students cycling, school children rushing to school, elderly taking strolls and, the statues and fountains made this a wonderful morning routine to cherish. The University of Glasgow staff were extremely friendly and helpful. As the campus is big and many departments were spread out and a bit distant from each other, we held meetings at café’s which were located conveniently for colleagues. I felt, we got a lot of creative ideas and discussion flowing more freely when we stepped out of the office for a bit and enjoyed a coffee and a light meal, surrounded by cutesy artsy café décor. I enjoyed the chats over coffee and meals about research projects, art, politics and philosophy with many colleagues including Lynn McCorriston, Mia Perry and Carlos Galan-Diaz.

  1. The power of technology

Not to sound like a gushing fan of technology, I do have to say that it touches my life on a daily basis. I walked to work every day guided by Google Map’s navigation lady’s voice. Through Facebook, I connected with a Glaswegian friend and attended her birthday party. I also connected with a classmate of mine after 20 years through facebook and booked my bus tickets online to spend a weekend with his family at Aberdeen. For travelling within the city, I used Uber and an app that allowed me to buy bus tickets online. Most of my meetings with people outside the UK was through skype or Zoom or Go-To-Meeting. During the snow storm, we continued work and had skype meetings. I don’t know what I would have done without my daily evening video chats with my family through whatsapp. Not to mention the many minutes I save every day from doing simple things like checking in online for flights, or ordering gifts online and planning my day according to the weather forecast. As much as technology has its problems, I realised that we can’t do without it and it makes our lives so much easier.

The beautiful city of Glasgow, its museums, café’s, friendly and humorous people and the rich intellectual atmosphere at the University of Glasgow was an inspiring experience for me. Through this serendipitous connection with the University, I have made new friends, new connections and become part of new and exciting collaborative projects. There is an old African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. I thank the University of Glasgow (Lynn, Mia and Molly in particular) for this walk together and making me feel part of a bigger team and a greater vision. Looking forward to the journey ahead!