A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Time at COMPAS as a Visiting Academic (Part 1)

Published 2 May 2023 / By Adam Komisarof

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Just one month ago, I was enjoying conversations with colleagues inside COMPAS - just a stone’s throw from the dreaming spires of Oxford. Now, I am back in Tokyo at Keio University, relishing a wonderful year and reflecting upon lessons learned. At COMPAS, there is a learning curve that all visitors experience, not only about migration studies but also in identifying the types of opportunities available and how to use our finite time here most effectively. In this short guide, I hope to share some of my experiences of the past year at COMPAS (March 2022-March 2023) to help expedite your learning curve so that you, too, can make the most of your affiliation with the Centre.

My motivation in coming to COMPAS on my sabbatical was to absorb a variety of perspectives in migration studies outside of my academic comfort zone (my own work addresses the social psychological processes shaping national identity, intergroup boundary permeability, and migrant belonging in their receiving societies). I was also keen to learn from the best about translating social scientific theories into practice, namely in terms of government and educational policies, and how to effectively message migration to the mass media. 

I quickly realized that so much is happening at COMPAS and in migration studies, more generally at Oxford, that it feels impossible to consume everything! However, in reflecting upon my varied experiences at COMPAS, I can offer the following advice to make the most of your time here:

First, attend as many events as possible. WIPs (Work in Progress, where colleagues share unfinished work in a presentation and discussion format) and COMPAS Seminars immediately come to mind. Here, you can not only learn from others in your discipline, but you can also challenge yourself to see how scholars employ a plethora of academic perspectives and methodologies to research migration studies.

But there is more happening here than just WIPs and Seminars. Special lectures are also illuminating, such as one I attended that addressed the history of migration studies at Oxford. I recommend you join COMPAS’ and Migration Oxford’s mailing lists (and explore the University-wide list of lectures), keeping an eye on the steady stream of lectures and workshops offered. I also attended a few classes with COMPAS master’s students in migration studies. Though I have a PhD and am a full professor in my field, I am a neophyte in behavioral economics and social anthropology, so I joined such lectures for introductions to other lenses for conceiving migration.

Second, embrace your agency and organize an event while you are here. Last year a former Visiting Academic put together a one-day event addressing her area of research. The COMPAS community was enriched by her perspective, and it demonstrated the strength in sharing academic findings across disciplines and backgrounds. I invited an international expert in cross-cultural and acculturation psychology to COMPAS to discuss the importance of psychological perspectives in migration research, which was warmly received. Other Visiting Academics have served as guest lecturers in graduate classes. And, of course, you can always present your own WIP, which was one of my most enriching experiences at COMPAS, as the attendees pepper you with questions and suggestions that serve as valuable learning opportunities to improve your research.

Third and finally, talk to as many people as you can. Relationships and the opportunities that they offer form the crux of what makes one’s time at COMPAS so special. For instance, I could get advice from experts about how to translate my complex findings about national identity and migration into palatable chunks that could be consumed by the mass media without losing the essence of my message. These conversations occurred just as often in COMPAS’s conference room as in Oxford’s many cafes and over beers at The Anchor. My mentor at COMPAS, Jacqui Broadhead, welcomed me to an event where I could see firsthand how academics, politicians, and other practitioners can work together to address the nexus between migration and climate change. This was a truly precious experience, replete with conversations that encouraged me to envision my work in a new, broader light and see how I can impact positive change in the world.

Returning to Tokyo and reflecting on my year at COMPAS, I am grateful to those who shared their time and expertise with me. There is always more to experience, always more to learn. But if you can swiftly identify the broad array of opportunities available and focus on those that are most meaningful to you personally, then your time here will be more fruitful. I have titled this blog entry “Part 1.” It is my hope that another person at COMPAS, whether a Visiting Academic, a student, or a permanent member of staff, will take up where I have left off and compose Part 2. That’s what COMPAS is all about, after all - galvanizing erudition and edification from a diversity of perspectives. 

Adam Komisarof is a Professor in Keio University’s Faculty of Letters in Tokyo. His research interests are in intercultural communication, acculturation psychology, and intercultural education. He has published 3 books, most recently Crossing Boundaries and Weaving Intercultural Work, Life, and Scholarship in Globalizing Universities (Routledge, with Zhu Hua), as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. Adam is a Fellow and President of the International Academy for Intercultural Research.