Secondment in Leuven: practicing the art of performing science

Returning to places where you lived before is a special and meaningful experience. This February I spent almost three weeks on my Newbreed secondment in Leuven, Belgium, at the university where I previously studied as a master’s student. Founded in 1425, KU Leuven is now among top 50 universities in the world, a university with a dynamic and inspiring research atmosphere. Holding a research master’s degree from KU Leuven (2018) and returning there now as a visiting researcher makes it twice special for me.

For my secondment, I joined the Meaning and Religion research lab. Being in the familiar research environment was an advantage for my experience, especially since well-being in advanced age is a common theme for my doctoral project and for the visited lab. My current study focusses on feelings of unsafety and well-being of older adults, and I presented research questions, hypotheses, and preliminary results in two lab brainstorm meetings. Thanks to these discussions, individual meetings with my secondment supervisor, Jessie Dezutter, and regular contact with my supervisors from Örebro University the study was significantly enriched, theoretically and methodologically. I am grateful to all the lab members for giving me this time and space for discussion, for their questions, remarks and overall interest in the 65+ and Safe Study we are currently working on in Örebro (supervisors Henrik Andershed, Karin Hellfeldt, and Katja Boersma). It was also very interesting to explore the existential foundations of feeling unsafe in discussions with a professor in clinical psychology, Siebrecht Vanhooren. In addition, attending weekly research meetings in the department contributed a lot to my further understanding of different research designs.

Apart from the main research activities, participating in a rich cultural life in Leuven was an experience by itself. During these weeks, Leuven hosted a festival “Alone together” that combined art and science events addressing the theme of loneliness and togetherness. For instance, an evening lecture on loneliness given by two university professors attracted a full 800-person auditorium of listeners. An exhibition “Alone together” with art works conveyed different shades of being with yourself and with others by immersion in visual, audial and even full body experience, (being able to understand Dutch allowed me to participate in these events). Feeling lonely, feeling unsafe… there was a lot to reflect on concerning possible parallels of these experiences. And, by the way, thanks to a welcoming group of other PhD students my feeling in Leuven was much more “together” than “alone”!

Secondment experience can also be a time to reflect on your professional identity. The question of how you define yourself will be answered slightly differently at different career stages (in my case, a researcher? a psychologist? an observing journalist? or all of that at the same time?). Nevertheless, there is also a common thread that connects various experiences throughout one’s life. I can confidently say that collaborating with colleagues from KU Leuven and being able to discuss aspects of the existential dimension, both in Leuven and in Örebro, gives me a good sense of continuity of my professional track.

Nadezhda Golovchanova
February 25, 2020