At the end of 2019, I had a chance to spend two months visiting NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Science) in Wellington, New Zealand, working with the Deep Sea Fisheries and Ecology team. With my own PhD focusing on developing modeling tools to predict the ecological impacts of emerging seabed mining activities, I got in touch with researchers at NIWA already in 2018 when they had just started a field study on the effects of ocean mining in New Zealand waters. While I had heard only good things about Kiwi hospitality, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the warm welcome to NIWA by everyone working there. Wellington may be the windiest city on the planet, but the good vibes at NIWA completely made up for the gusty weather. I was equally impressed by the time my collaborators - all busy and important deep-sea scientists - could allocate for meetings, discussions, and workshops to get our collaborative project running (in addition to answering my endless questions). The main aim for my visit was to host participatory modeling workshops for deep-sea experts, and to use local data to quantify the risk assessment model we were building. This meant I had a chance to really dig deep in all the deep-sea research done at NIWA. Having done most of my own research in the Baltic Sea region, I must admit I was a bit starstruck sharing an office with colleagues whose job was to check out ROV footage from deep-sea cruises and to identify the incredible fauna living several kilometers deep. By the end of my visit, it was hard to see my desk from behind the stacks of identification manuals for deep-sea organisms kindly brought in by my colleagues.
Mobility is an important part of research, and something many of us would like to do as early as possible. Visiting another group and institute will not only help you make contacts and friends, but also reflect on your work in a new context and learn new things. While the current covid-19 situation is hindering many travel plans, there’s no reason not to think about international collaboration or getting in touch with people who do interesting work even when we can’t travel. I found it extremely useful to think about my work in a broader context and learn what other people are doing to reach the same goals already well before my visit. Planning mobility and getting in touch with people takes time and patience, so it’s good to cast nets even when the seas are a bit stormy.