Medewerker van de Maand (mei 2019): Olivier Demerre

Dat onze doctoraatstudenten méér doen dan alleen aan hun bureau zitten schrijven, hebben we al eerder verteld. Maar wisten jullie dat onderzoekers soms ook eens graag een poosje van bureau (en land) veranderen om béter te kunnen schrijven? Wij mailden met #MedewerkervandeMaand mei Olivier Demerre, die doctoreert bij prof. Koen De Temmerman en momenteel zijn kamp heeft opgeslagen in Cambridge. Lees hieronder waarom dat voor zijn onderzoek zo nuttig is en op welke gekke manier de lokale bibliotheek daar haar boeken sorteert!

Hi Olivier! We had to contact you from a distance, for you are not in Belgium at this moment! You are on a research stay in Cambridge for about 3 months. Can you tell us a bit more about why that place is interesting for your research?

Olivier: Hello there! One of my prime motivations to go to Cambridge was to interact with other researchers working on the ancient novels who live and work here and especially with members of my DBC (Doctoral Advisory Committee: they are international experts who advise PhD students during their research). My second motivation was to gain access to books and online resources that are not available in Ghent. The Cambridge libraries have very rich collections! Moreover, this university obviously attracts lots of researchers from all over the world, so there are often high quality talks and the overall atmosphere is very stimulating. Finally, and most importantly, England provides a wide range of culinary resources that are of high value for my research.

About colleges and strange library habits

How are you spending your working time over there? Do you have an office desk as you do in Ghent?

Olivier: Unfortunately I do not have office space here! But there are many places where you can work. The University Library is huge and always has a quiet corner to spare. There is also a cafeteria inside the Library. It is a bit difficult, though, to find books since they are ordered by size (!). The Classics Faculty Library is where most of the classicists work. And I also have access to a library and a study room within the College I am affiliated to (St John’s). Finally, I can also work from home: the place where I stay is connected to the university wifi, so I have access to lots of online resources.

Leaving home for a few months must require quite some practical organization! Of course, this is not the first time you move to a new country for a longer period, so you must be an expert by now. Was it easy to find a place to stay? How do you like this “retreat” from a personal point of view?

Olivier: It was a bit stressful at the beginning since Cambridge is quite a small city, with lots of students. This means that finding an affordable place to live can prove rather difficult. My host in Cambridge (the professor who also arranged my letter of invitation and whom I was particularly keen to meet for my research) was so kind as to work out an affiliation with a College (St John’s) for me. Colleges are like little research units and student communities at the same time: the affiliated students live there during term and some researchers have an office. Colleges do not only provide food and additional education to the students, but also host a library and organize lectures, many have a choir or sports’ teams. The oldest have long traditions and beautiful historical buildings, which are popular tourist attractions, too. St John’s, for example, has its very own ‘Bridge of Sighs’! The College I am affiliated to for the duration of my stay had a few properties to let and I was offered one. I was also lucky enough to receive a FWO scholarship. The FWO basically handled the other travel practicalities.

Cambridge beyond research…

Finally, being abroad always gives one a chance to explore nice places! Have you been able to enjoy the surrounding areas in your spare time? And/or are you planning a holiday there, before returning to Belgium?

Olivier: Cambridge is a green city, there are lots of parks and meadows where you can wander and relax when it’s sunny outside. The sun has been surprisingly present since I arrived there! I also took the opportunity to visit the city, which I did not know well. I am planning a visit to surrounding towns in the week-end: London, for instance, is less than an hour away, and possibly a trip to Edinburgh in June.