Academic insights from a recent trip to Myanmar

3 December 2018

At the beginning of November, a team of ANU academics had something other than end-of-semester exams on their minds. Dr Margaret Kiley and Dr Charlotte Galloway from College of Arts and Social Sciences, and Dr AJ Mitchell from College of Science, set off on a cross-college capacity-building visit to the city of Yangon in southern Myanmar. AJ reflected on their journey after their return to Canberra.

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Monday morning. It's not even 4 am, yet I'm awake. I'm all-too-familiar with the effects of jetlag - but this feels different. We were supposed to arrive on Saturday night, but travel delays meant two of our team didn't arrive until Sunday afternoon. Hopefully that doesn't knock us off our stride.

We're in Yangon to deliver workshops on research development, HDR student supervision, and curriculum design at the University of Yangon. ANU has a strong connection with Myanmar - Yangon, in particular - through the Myanmar Research Centre. While the three of us have visited Yangon separately on previous occasions, this is the first time we're taking a collaborative, cross-college approach to engagement with the university staff.

It's a short taxi ride from our hotel to the campus (via a quick dash across a busy road). We've got an idea of which part of campus we're supposed to be in, but we're a bit lost. After 15 minutes of looking like stray tourists, we're directed across a road to the correct building. We're delighted to see people arriving. The colours of their uniforms are striking - a stunning blue. But there's no AV equipment in the room. Our handouts haven't been photocopied yet. How will we run the workshops? No worries - we've been sent to the wrong room. And soon we're up and running, with our shoes left by the front door.

On our first day, we work with lecturers from across the STEM disciplines. We dive into aspects of research development and student supervision: What makes a good supervisor? How do you manage expectations and relationships? How do you develop a meaningful research project? These are just a few of the topics we cover throughout the day. We are delighted with the outcome, the discussions we have, and new personal connections we make.

Throughout the week ahead, over 60 staff from across the university will attend our workshops. It's hectic - but so enjoyable. We also have many other meetings to fit into the week. I will catch up with colleagues in the Physics Department and discuss a research project we are developing there.  We'll visit the Australian Embassy, and meet with representatives of international development agencies. Despite the busy schedule, we must find time to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. Neither words nor photos can do justice to the magnificence and reverence of this spectacular site, located in the middle of the city.

The week will fly by; however, the journey doesn't end there. We've barely arrived, yet discussions are underway for a return trip in 2019, and we're hopeful that the connections between our institutions will continue to grow from strength to strength in the years to come.