Tips on negotiating a nomadic/virtual PhD position

Hi all!

I am new in this forum, and heard about IGDORE’s mission and thought it was fantastic.

I wanted to ask you for advice. Given my question I think I am at the right place.

I have an interview for a PhD position in the Netherlands coming up soon, and my ideal scenario would be to be a nomadic/virtual researcher, at least in a partial way. How feasible do you think this is?

I wondered whether someone here has done their PhD in a non-presential way, and how did it come about. Did you have to negotiate it with your employeer/supervisor? Were they fine and supportive with the idea? If you have any tips that I can take to my interview, I would greatly appreciate it! I assume that being very open about it since the beginning it’s a good thing, but should I bring it up during the interview itself? What do senior academics think of it?

Thanks!

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Hi @oliviodare, welcome to the forum! We are happy to meet you here!

I don’t believe I personally know someone who finished their PhD this way but I am myself considering about pursuing a PhD this way. I think my employer won’t be against this. But I am also not completely sure about all of this, maybe full independence could be the best decision these days.

Firstly, I would like to suggest to read this article:

I hope our more experienced members: @rebecca, @Enrico.Fucci, @Gavin, @CataTorres, @kartika are gonna join to this discussion to share their opinions and new insights.

Let’s see maybe someone else can show us something exciting on this issue.

Actually, I find your questions quite interesting and I am really looking forward to how this thread will unfold.

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Welcome to the forum, @oliviodare!

I spent my last year of my PhD program abroad: 5 months at a university in Canada (but I worked remotely the whole time, only came in to the lab a few times) and the last 5-6 months from Bali. My supervisors were supportive of the time in Canada but didn’t appreciate the time I spent on Bali. I didn’t give them much of a choice though because I simply emailed them from Canada informing them that I won’t be coming home. In my particular case, this was rather rational though because I had never really had any contact with my supervisors aside from email, so there wasn’t really any change from how it had been before. And in my particular case, I went abroad because I basically had blown the whistle about misconduct in my home lab which had made it very difficult socially for me there. So I didn’t see any reason to come back home. I want to point out that I had worked very independently the whole time during my PhD, with very few interactions with my supervisors, so it worked very well for me to simply continue this independence. I had fellow PhD students with same supervisors (and thereby the same expectations on independence) who struggled a lot during their 4 years on the program because that type of independence didn’t suit them well at all. They cried, they wanted to quit, they felt alone, they were anxious.

Working remotely requires a lot of independence that is not for everyone. And I think most supervisors would expect from potential grad students that they can’t handle that type of independence yet. Personally I do it the other way around: I expect from everyone I work with, colleagues and students, that they can work alone and independently of me. I often hear though that my expectations are too high. Thus, other people may be more right when they expect their students to not be able to handle the independence needed for completing a high-quality PhD program remotely.

So I think you would get a no, and I think it could even be used against you if they knew that you aim to work remotely. Once you’re in you could perhaps try to get some increased freedom with time.

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Welcome to the community Olivio! :wave:

I know of one person who has done something like this with a PhD through the Open University doctoral program. In this case, he was registered at the OU, had a Marie-Curie fellowship for funding, worked mainly at a research lab in Naples and also made several long research visits to other labs. I think he had a supervisor in OU, Naples and one external lab. He moved around a lot, although I wouldn’t necessarily call him a free-spirited nomad as his research was in marine biology and the trips were planned to access animals from different regions.

Personally, I spent several months visiting a lab in Sweden while doing my PhD at the University of Queensland, which they funded through Graduate School International Travel Award program. I think this kind of lab visit is generally encouraged for science PhD students as I know of students from various countries doing similar things.

Coming from a science background, I wouldn’t expect to do a large part of a PhD program remotely unless it was required for something like field-work. Even if doing a project (say computational modelling) that could be done remotely, my expectation is that most science supervisors would expect their students to be present in the lab most of the time.

Of course, things have changed a lot of with COVID travel restrictions and social distancing, so if your project does not require you to be physically present then supervisors may be more likely to approve of virtual work (and I expect many experimental labs are thinking of ways to do more remotely now as well). I’m not really sure how to bring this up in an interview, but maybe you could suggest the option of remote work as something you’re pro-actively considering and planning for in order to minimize disruptions to your study caused by on-going/future restrictions.

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Hi all! Thank you for your replies and first-hand impressions!

^ This is what I was fearing, @rebecca, but knowing it already is good for my planning. A word of caution before the interview. Thank you also for bringing the topic of independence, and yes it is true that it is not for everybody. Achieving it is something to be done progressively. And as @Gavin mentioned:

^ yes, I forgot to say that my field is not experimental. I work in philosophy/history of science, which for the most part is a lonely endeavour (:frowning:…) In that sense, we are expected to have quite some level of independence. Although the community feeling of physical academia is something that I do appreciate, a place to exchange thoughts. Luckily, the covid situation has tought me that it can be partially found in zoom meetings and email conversations.

^ and certainly, this is a really good suggestion. Somewhere in between not mentioning it at all, and being too open about it. I will consider to do something like that.

Thank you all!

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This paragraph stroke me and I’d like to share it with our Open Scholarship group at my university where we are already having a conversation about it, any suggestions or thought where we could take it further are welcome:

“I know at least two researchers who unsuccessfully tried to convince their supervisors and laboratories to do better science”

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