My QES-AS scholarship term started amidst the pandemic when Canada and some parts of Asia were experiencing a “new normal” during which teleconference emerged as an effective way for scholars to implement their research with colleagues. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many hurdles to my research, especially from a networking perspective, but I have learned a lot from making efforts to overcome the challenges. This story will lead you through what I have experienced with doing research internationally in the new normal.

One of the connections between my QES-AS research project and the new normal is that my research examines global governance in cyberspace when a large part of society had to move online due to the pandemic. The changes in the way people work and interact provided me practical input for my studies, which focus on three topics: the legal aspects of smart cities in Asia, obligations of platform owners in peer-to-peer markets, and national jurisdiction in cyberspace. The pandemic, however, caused several disruptions and problems to my research.

The first problem is travel restrictions. My research partner institution is Hanoi Law University (HLU) and research placement partner institution is the Institute for Legal Science (ILS), Vietnam. Without the pandemic, I would have had a trip to Vietnam and worked with my colleagues at the two institutions. My plan to travel to Vietnam has been delayed several times due to new waves of COVID-19 cases in Asia, which forced the Vietnamese government to ban inbound flights. This disruption made me adjust my plan, such that I had to work with the institutions remotely via Zoom conferences.

The second difficulty is a time zone difference. The difference of 15 hours between Hanoi and Victoria made it difficult to arrange a meeting between Vietnamese and Canadian scholars. In most cases, I had to work in the evening and a couple of times I worked until 11:00 pm.  

The third problem is Zoom fatigue. Having several online meetings in a day sometimes made me overwhelmed and stressed. Online meetings lack interactions such as tea breaks or lunch breaks where participants can enjoy foods and drink and enhance their relationships. In addition, looking at a computer screen can strain our eyes and brain.

Working remotely, however, allowed me to arrange meetings more easily because participants did not have to travel to a meeting room. I could work with colleagues from HLU and ILS at the same time. More importantly, working via Zoom conference also allowed me to set up meetings with scholars in Vietnam and Canada more easily so that Vietnamese scholars had more access to capacity-building seminars provided by Canadian experts. 

In addition, working online saved time and costs for me to organize an international conference. On 27 January 2021, I, in partnership with colleagues at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, HLU, and ILS organized a conference titled “The Legal Aspects of Smart Cities in Asia”. The conference consisted of two panels, inviting scholars from Canada, New Zealand, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Panelists are legal scholars, computer engineers, and experts from urban development areas. The discussions were also open for audiences from all over the world, who might not have had a chance to participate if the conference had been face-to-face. The success of this conference suggested me that virtual meetings are a great option for future events.

By organizing the conference, I learned how to schedule meetings, select, and contact speakers, give them suggestions for presentations, and send them reminders. Two significant difficulties are keeping the deadlines and ensuring their commitments. One of the speakers withdrew from the conference one month before the event, making me in a hurry to find a substitute.

I also learned an experience with scheduling a date and time for a conference in a multicultural context. A large part of speakers and participants were university professors and students so good timing for the conference should be sometime between fall 2020 and spring 2021 terms. December and early January, however, are holiday times in Canada while February and March are long holidays in some Asian countries. The third week of January was, therefore, the best option for the event.

The conference also enhanced my networking, giving me and colleagues in ILS and HLU an opportunity to exchange expertise in law and technology. It also then inspired the panelists and some participants to come up with an idea to publish a book on “Smart Cities in Asia: Governance and Innovation.” As a co-editor of the book, I have been working with my colleagues in Canada to support scholars in Vietnam, especially those from ILS and HLU to enhance their skills in carrying out legal research. We also helped them obtain an international publication, which is important to scholars.

My work with colleagues at ILS and HLU is still ongoing. We are tirelessly working on the book and planning for an international conference on the legal frameworks for peer-to-peer markets in Asia. The experience we learned from organizing previous events during the pandemic would be valuable for us to implement the coming projects more smoothly, enhancing the relationship between the University of Victoria and its Asian partners. I hope my experience could also inspire my colleagues to overcome difficulties caused by the pandemic to achieve their success.

A Post-Doc Researcher with the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Victoria, Thanh Phan undertook a QES-AS outgoing scholar term from August 2020 to July 2021 through CAPI’s “Regulating globalization in South and Southeast Asia” project, which has the goal of “activating a dynamic community of young global leaders around the world to conduct interdisciplinary research on innovative governance and justice strategies to mitigate the harsher effects of economic globalization in South and Southeast Asia.”

About the funder:

The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES) is managed through a unique partnership of Universities Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and Canadian universities. The QES-AS (“Advanced Scholars”) program is made possible with financial support from IDRC and SSHRC.