Santander International Experiences

Santander International Experiences

Meet some of our successful applicants, read reports of their experiences abroad, and learn how Santander funding has benefited them


University of Bremen Robotics Laboratory

Santander Mobility Award 2017 - Report
Name: Paulo Abelha Ferreira Position: PhD student University: University of Aberdeen
Award Purpose: Visit the robotics laboratory at the University of Bremen, present my work, and work on a joint paper

I was awarded the Santander Mobility Award in 2017 to visit the University of Bremen to present my PhD research for their robotics group and to collaborate on a future paper. It was my first talk outside of conferences and my own university. It also involved meeting with two other PhD students there to work in the PR2 robot and it was the first time I would have the chance to work with a real robot.

I visited the lab together with another PhD student from Poland, Pawel Gajewski, which is also working on the same paper. I will do the computer vision part of the work and he will do the robot manipulation part. We both arrived on Sunday and went to city centre to get a feeling for the city. It was nice that we immediately found a famous German dish to try, bratwurst mit pommes frites.

On Monday, Georg introduced us to some people that work in the lab and we started getting to know how to work with the robot. The first day usually involves some hour for discussion, organising the work and defining goals. Therefore, the three of us had a whole-morning meeting for deciding how to structure the paper story and what were the goals for the week. The work involved mainly: scanning objects, learning how to get data from the robot, and send commands to the robot, and get a full working action for the robot trying to scrape butter with a spatula. Here is PR2 and me:
During the next two days I was finishing the scanning of all the household objects plus helping Pawel with setting up the robot and calibrating the action. On the second day, we could finally get the visual data from the robot. This is us as seen by the robot:

On Wednesday I worked a bit more on my Thursday talk and finished scanning all the objects. We discover some problems for the robot using the frying pan and decided on a different object. We had a nice chat with Georg and he taught us that this is very common in robotics as you have many things that can go wrong with perception, quality of data etc.

We then decided on using a big bowl as the object on which the robot was going to act. I then focused on helping Pawel get the robot working for our scraping goal. Here is the robot ready for scraping:

Wednesday was also interesting because the lab was having visitors and some students there were showing a virtual reality system for gathering data for the robot by having humans perform task and track the human activity with sensors. I got to try the system a bit and was a really nice experience. This is me having fun with virtual reality:

Thursday was the day of my talk for the group. During the morning I worked with Pawel on the robot to finish calibration for using the spatula and grasping the bowl. After lunch, I gave my talk to the Bremen group and feedback was really good. Michael Beetz was there during my talk and we had some interesting discussion on limitations and possible future applications of my work. The whole group there seemed interested in my work and told me that the talk was good. Unfortunately I was so nervous I forgot to ask Pawel to take a picture during my talk.

On Friday, the last day, we put all efforts in finishing the goal of making the robot scrape with the spatula on the bowl. This required a bit more calibration and it was interested because Pawel had to teach me how to work a bit deeper into how to connect to the robot. This is me connecting to the robot:

Overall, this trip was a great experience. I met different people, had interesting research discussions with both Georg Bartels and Michael Beetz and could achieve all my three goals (with Pawel) for the paper. I thank Santander for the award because it enabled a very important trip in my career to network and improve my skills as a researcher.

University of Porto, Public Health Collaboration

Aberdeen – Porto Collaboration in Public Health, Dr Amudha Poobalan

Collaboration between Public Health fields of Aberdeen University and University of Porto was made possible by the Santander Mobility Award 2017.

My research interests: For the past 10 years, I have been working in the area of young adult obesity, focussing on those who are in transition from adolescence to adulthood (15 -25 year olds). This age group go through several life course changes such as moving away from home to study or work, start living independently with the stresses associated with it, live with a partner; while developing their own identity in the process. All of these life course changes makes young adults’ a vulnerable group for developing unhealthy lifestyle behaviours. In spite of the crucial stage in life, they are a neglected group both in terms of research and policy.

Recent collaboration: Recently, I had started networking with like-minded researchers from other Universities in the UK and globally with Australia, Sweden and Belgium to develop a consortium. We developed a ‘Transition Adults Research Network’ (TARN) to strengthen our collective work and take it forward. As a group, we applied to run a Hot topic symposium on “Young Adult Obesity: the Transition from Adolescence to Emerging adulthood” at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal – May 2017 and it was accepted. This gave us the opportunity to expand our network in Portugal.

Expanding the Network: I approached 4 researchers in Porto working with young adults. Three of them replied very positively. Dr Elisabete Ramos, and Dr Joana Araju from Public Health Nutrition Department, Universidade Do Porto, UP, Portugal; and Dr Filipe Manual Clemente, Instituto Politecnico de Viana do Castelo, Escola Superior de Desporto e Lazer (Melgaço, Portugal) joined the network. In addition to applying to the Staff Development Fund in my Institution, I applied to Santander mobility award for initiating the collaboration with Portugal.

My visit to Porto 19th to 22nd May 2017: In Porto, we conducted the ECO symposium session which was attended by over 80 people. All three researchers from Portugal were at the workshop and we had a face to face meeting with them to discuss further strengthening of the collaboration.


Dissemination: Following the symposium, using the experts in the network, we did some dissemination activities from Porto. We tweeted the importance of the healthy lifestyle in this age group. We informed them about our network and invited the young people to support this venture. We also did an Interview on the local radio in Aberdeen with young people to build up the rapport with young people. We also had fun by relaxing in Porto city centre, which helped us to build the trust with each other and talk about the passion for the subject. We were already planning a followup event in Aberdeen


Visit to Aberdeen – 27th to 29th of November 2017: Following our successful trip to Porto, we planned a reciprocal visit for Porto colleagues to Aberdeen. Researchers from Porto, Dr Elisabete Ramos and Dr Andreia Olivera from the Public Health Nutrition Department, Universidade Do Porto, UP, Portugal visited Aberdeen for 3 days. During their visit, I organised an IAHS/Rowett Joint Seminar attended by 30 people to share their research interests. I also set up meetings with other researchers in the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition for extended opportunities for collaboration.

Elisabete and Andreia met with Dr Leone Craig (NHS Grampian and Infant nutrition), Prof Heather Wallace (Industrial placement co-ordinator for the School), Dr Andreas Kolb (Rowett Institute) and Dr Amalraj Raja (Medical Statistician) to explore further collaborations. We also had meetings to identify common research ground and to plan some research activities.


Output from the award: We used the meetings to discuss the two big datasets that we have. We had done a Grampian Young Adults Survey in 2007 covering all the lifestyle behaviours among 13 to 25 years old. Similarly Porto colleagues had set up a cohort called Epiteen in 1999 and had data for 13 to 27 year olds. We spent some time identifying the common variables that we have in these two datasets and we have decided to merge the datasets on certain variables. We hope to write two Joint papers on ‘Perceptions of body image in young adults and mental health’ and ‘Associations between Socio Economic Status (SES) and risky health behaviours’. We also see a great potential to have a Joint PhD/Masters students to carry some of the ideas forward and we are in the process of identifying funding bodies for a studentship. Once we have some collaborative preliminary work done, we will work towards developing a research proposal.

Social activities in Aberdeen: We delighted in showing the landscape of our University to our Porto colleagues. We had a visit to Old Aberdeen to see St Machar's Cathedral, Seaton Park, Sir Duncan Rice Library, and Kings College Chapel. Our colleagues were very impressed with the new library and FINALLY they got to see snow! One of our Porto visitors have never seen snow before and made it a worthwhile visit to Aberdeen!



Universidad La Salle, Mexico City, Archival Research

Santander Mobility Award, Report, Prof. Patience Schell

Using my Santander Mobility Award, combined with School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture funds, as well as personal funds, I spent three weeks in Mexico City, in August 2017, undertaking archival research and also strengthening our existing partnership with Universidad La Salle.

I researched the life and work of Dr John McPherson (1872-1941), an Aberdonian medical doctor who spent 30-40 years of his life in Mexico, and was a prolific donor to the University Museums. For this work I visited the Archivo Histórico de Petróleos Mexicanos, the Archivo General de la Nación, the Archivo Histórico de la Facultad de Medicina (UNAM), the Archivo Histórico de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salud y Asistencia Pública and the Hemeroteca Nacional.

I consulted with the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores by email, but one of the archivists confirmed that there was no relevant material held in that archive.

In the other archives, I found a great deal of material on McPherson’s working life, as well as his immigration status and issues to do with his professional accreditation in Mexico. This material will contribute towards an article about his collection in the University Museums, which I am developing.

Additionally, I began research on the best-selling 1853 etiquette guide, Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras, published in Venezuela originally, but re-published throughout the Americas and Europe. For this research I visited the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, the Biblioteca Nacional and the Hemeroteca Nacional.

This research not only provided me with useful material, but has also given me a more thoroughly - practiced research methodology. While my Leverhulme Trust application for a larger project on this guidebook was unsuccessful, I have received British Academy funding to develop this research in Chile. I will use this summer’s Mexican research, plus the Chilean research which I will undertake in March/April 2018, to revise the grant and submit it to the AHRC.

While in Mexico, Dr Stuart Durkin and I also engaged in further partnership discussions with colleagues at the Universidad La Salle. This year is the first time that we have sent UG exchange students to La Salle; we were able to meet those two students, on the La Salle campus, and also had a fruitful discussion organised by Joan Landeros, director of La Salle’s Centre for International Education, with various colleagues, including from the Department of International Relations.

At that meeting we began considering ways in which we could teach collaboratively (using the COIL – Collaborative Online International Learning – approach). Upon returning to Aberdeen, Dr Durkin and I both followed up. My plans to collaborate with Dr Andrés Camino were hampered by the 20 September earthquake, but La Salle colleagues have now indicated their interest in resuming these collaboration plans. Dr Durkin will follow up with them this coming half session, and I will work with Dr Camino in 2018-2019.