Over several decades our researchers have carried out ground-breaking work overseas, particularly in East Africa and South-East Asia. While working in these countries is academically and culturally stimulating, it is also incredibly challenging. Language, temperature, infrastructure, supply delivery and maintenance of a cool chain can all act as major barriers for researchers working in developing countries and tropical environments, however, the benefits of doing research in these areas undoubtedly outweigh the challenges.
Ultimately, medical research must translate into improved treatments for patients. At the Nuffield Department of Medicine, our researchers collaborate to develop better health care, improved quality of life, and enhanced preventative measures for all patients. Our findings in the laboratory are translated into changes in clinical practice, from bench to bedside.
Over several decades our researchers have carried out ground breaking work overseas, such as in East Africa and South-East Asia. Researchers based in Thailand talk about their experiences when working in stimulating and challenging environments.
Daniel Paris: Obviously the language barrier is one of the major issues. There are many situations where there is miscommunication or misunderstanding. If you hear a lot of giggling during a conference or a discussion then you know there is a problem there and sometimes it is better to actually not say anything and just wait, or use analogies to explain something. It is also extremely important to not point fingers and to not give blame to someone for making a mistake here. It’s extremely important to not show anger or any sort of emotion, to not raise your own voice and to maintain ‘face’ because maintaining and losing face here are extremely central things. If you lose your face you can’t get it back - you only have one! You have to always be aware of these things when you are going into negotiations be them political, logistic, ordering etc.
Ordering here is a huge challenge because we have to order lots of things from different countries as they are not available here. It often take months for them to come and then they sit at customs at the airport in ambient temperatures, which in the hot season can be up to 42 degrees, or they store reagents in a freezer when they should be kept at room temperature. So we have those issues which the environmental side of things.
It is also quite tricky to bring samples down from very distant field sites and maintain the cool chain in these temperatures.
Obviously the field sites, when we go up country where the hospitals often have very minimal infrastructure, there are no labs, no reagents so we have to bring everything ourselves.
Nick Day: I think there are challenges to working in any environment and a lot of the challenges we face here are the same as the challenges that researchers face in Europe or North America. The unique challenges I think are the wide variety of cultures that we work with, although of course this is increasingly the case in places like Oxford too.
Stuart Blacksell: This is my 24th year of working overseas in South-East Asia and I have to say despite the challenges (and the heat!) I don’t think that I would want to work in any other environment.