My first semester at the University of Vienna comes to a close at the end of January. It has been an extraordinarily rich experience so far, and I very much look forward to the spring semester. My Fulbright grant is a full research grant to work on my project, “Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology.” Most of my time has been devoted to this project, but there have been many opportunities to interact with the local academic community and participate in cultural activities sponsored by the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission, the University of Vienna, and the Austrian governmental agency funding my Fulbright-Mach grant, the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation.
One of the greatest personal benefits of the Fulbright grant has been the opportunity to focus full-time on my research project. Besides the valuable time to write, my project has benefited greatly from my interactions with my local academic supervisor, Dr. Richard Dawid, and other contacts made in the local community. A difficulty that I expect many Fulbright research grant recipients face, though, is this very time and freedom. Graduate programs in the U.S. can be fairly structured, with seminars, colloquia, reading groups, advising, and teaching rapidly filling out one’s time. Transitioning to an environment where a lot of this familiar structure at one’s home institution disappears ironically presents a challenge to efficient time management and productivity. With a lot of time on one’s hands, it’s easy to waste a lot of time unproductively! Many anecdotes from my fellow Fulbright scholars support this observation as well.
The solution is obvious in theory, but can be difficult in practice. In the first place, one can replace the familiar events from one’s home institution with similar events at the institution with which one is affiliated. For me, this has included regularly attending one of the lecture series in the Department of Philosophy, and participating in the Vienna Forum for Academic Philosophy.
It is also a great idea to take advantage of the many events sponsored by organizations invested in your presence in the host country. One of the highlight events of this semester was attending a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Vienna, where I had the opportunity to interact with the many people involved in supporting the Fulbright program in Austria, former and future Austrian Fulbrighters, and my fellow U.S. grantees. There have also been many opportunities to take part in cultural and community service activities, such as taking guided tours of the city of Vienna, visiting exhibitions in local museums like the Vienna Museum Karlspatz, attending a traditional ball at the Imperial Palace (waltz lessons included), preparing meals for the homeless, and many others.
Of course, one cannot know about many of these events in advance, but it pays to think ahead before arriving in the host country about how to organize your time. The several months of one’s grant period go by quickly, and it is no good to spend a lot of that time figuring out how to spend the rest of it! Show up with a plan, enforce personal deadlines, etc.
Just be ready to throw the plan away when opportunity comes knocking, as it certainly will!