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A Transnational Experience at the University of Essex

My name is Milena Milićević, a PhD in disability studies and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research in Belgrade, Serbia. My research passion lies in disability studies, the participation concept, individual and family quality of life and family-centred approaches to rehabilitation services. I am thrilled to share my academic visit experience at the University of Essex, which took place from June 19 to July 7, 2023, and was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101008589 for the COORDINATE project.

The primary purpose of my visit was to collaborate with Essex academics on data analysis and paper writing. This remarkable opportunity was made possible through the guidance and mentorship of Dr Cara Booker, the COORDINATE Transnational Access Visitor Coordinator and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, UK.

Why the University of Essex? Well, it's home to the renowned Understanding Society dataset – the most extensive longitudinal household panel study of its kind. This dataset provides invaluable evidence on life changes and stability, enabling researchers like me to track a multitude of topics over time and across generations. The Institute for Social and Economic Research's focus on both social and health research closely aligned with my own interests, making it the perfect fit for my academic visit.

Before my journey, I attended a course on the R programming language in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2022. This course equipped me with data wrangling and visualization skills, laying a solid foundation for my data analysis attempts during my visit.

Initially, my research proposal aimed to explore the longitudinal associations between bullying and self-reported health and mental health status in young adults with disabilities in the UK. However, as research often unfolds, I found myself drawn to a new research direction – a longitudinal analysis of the self-reported health and mental health status of carers who support household members with disabilities, illness, or elderly individuals in the UK.

My visit to the University of Essex was divided into three productive weeks. The initial week introduced me to the research environment and the Understanding Society dataset. In the second week, I dedicated all my efforts to variable selection and data collection and cleaning. As I entered the third week, I devoted my time to data processing and analysis.

The experience at the University of Essex was more than just research; it was an opportunity to connect with exceptional researchers and wonderful individuals. Dr Cara Booker's unwavering support helped me step outside my comfort zone, while Dr Dean Lillard's insights opened new research perspectives (and helped me raise some questions). Xhiselda Demaj's impressive presentation of her work inspired me, and Kristijan Garic offered a warm welcome and insightful advice. I also shared laughter with Dr Radka Hanzlová during our time together in the office.

My time at the University of Essex was not limited to academic pursuits alone. I had the privilege of experiencing Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town with Celtic origins and a provincial Roman capital of Britain until attacked and destroyed during Boudica's rebellion in AD 61. Colchester, steeped in history, boasts attractions such as the First World War Memorial and Roman walls, a memorial to the "Essex Witch Hunts", and the priory of St Julian and St Botolph, founded in 1103 but closed on the orders of Henry VIII more than four centuries later. Among my favourite places are also the East Anglian Railway Museum, where the iconic band Blur held their first concert in 1989, and the Arts Centre, which hosted Blur's homecoming concert in May this year. My journey even extended to idyllic West Mersea Island and a memorable day trip to London, culminating in a live performance by Pulp in Finsbury Park.

In conclusion, my academic visit to the University of Essex was a truly unique and transformative journey that expanded my knowledge of advanced statistics and longitudinal data analytics. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from the Understanding Society dataset and the support I found within the research community at the University of Essex.


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