Doing Research Outside Your University: Is It A Mistake?

Sometimes when you are doing research as a graduate student, you want to work on another project with a professor at another university. You might really like their work, gravitate towards their ideas, or have some data that they can use. Should you do research with this professor at a different university? If so, what should you think about before you do?

You can do research with another professor at another university, and often you might be encouraged to do so. Doing research with other researchers, students and professors is an important part of doing scientific research.

Yet, there are important caveats for you to think about before you reach out to another professor at another university.

Here are things that you need to ask before you seek to do research with another professor:

  • Have you fully discussed this option with your current advisor? Are they aware of you wanting to work on a project with another professor?
  • Have you thought about the ethics of it? Have you first discussed your desire with your current professor, department coordinator, and department chair? Are they positive with you wanting to work with this other person?
  • Do you truly have the time to work with another professor? Or, are you just wishful thinking?
  • Can you leverage your skills to work with this research professor?
  • Does the other professor know that you want to work on a project with them?

Are you interested in “do professor…” questions? Check out this blog post if you are curious.

Benefits of Working With Other Researchers.

Leverage your skills and ideas.

The first benefit of working with other researchers at different university is obvious: You share research ideas, and you can sometimes leverage your skills. You might also be able to capitalize on the prestige and status of the more senior professor. Many doctoral students that are in less high status institutions may have to reach out to others in high status institutions to be able to more learn the skills to publish in top journals.

Working with other researchers at different universities is sometimes a trick to get your name out to the research community, and get your research ideas known. It will help you meet more people and ultimately can help you find an academic position.

Travel to other institutions.

One of the non-obvious benefits is that you might be able to travel to different institutions and meet people that you always wanted to get to know. For example, say you read an article by so-and-so, and so-and-so is at another university, you can sometimes research out to them, and travel to their university. You can not only learn about their ideas, but also how things are done at that other university.

Every university has its own unique way of doing things, and its own unique culture. You get to learn about this academic culture.

Need help with meeting your research goals? Check out this helpful blog post on meeting your research goals in academic research.

Increasing your network.

You can sometimes benefit by creating ties with others in different areas of research. If you create that tie, sometimes you can ask for advice and favors in the future from that person. They might know about what it’s like to work with another person or at another university, and they can provide this great advice for you.

Watch this video if you are looking at how to actually collaborate and network in academia:

Meeting new people is fun.

I think this is overlooked, and we should not de-emphasize it. Working with different people, and new people provides new adventures. This is the main source of news in your life, and sometimes people are just a hoot to be around.

Costs of Working With Other Researchers.

Being stretched too thin.

Being stretched too thin is going to be the biggest cost of working with too many collaborators. You are highly likely to do so especially when you are junior scholar, and you do not know the demands of the career. Doing research is far more difficult than you think it is. Do not underestimate how difficult it will be.

Everyone wants to have their name on a publication, but few want to put in the work.

This is a reality of the incentive scheme in academia. We get paid to have our names on publications, but we rarely get paid to “do” the work. Consequentially, most people will agree to work with you, but you will have to assume you will put in all of the work in the project.

You might annoy the people that you are currently working with.

Remember, research is always hard than you think, and it will take more times. Consequentially, if you go and work with other people, you are highly likely not working on projects with your current advisors and research team. They are working with you at the moment because they are hoping that this will turn into a few publications. If you are under-delivering on this, you might tarnish your academic reputation, or worst your career prospects.

Academia is a very small world, and people do talk.

Can You Have Supervisors From Different Universities?

Yes, having supervisors from different universities is common. What you often want to look for is a situation where your advisor is friends or colleagues with someone at another university. What you often have is a lead supervisor / advisor at your university, and then your outside committee member is this people from another university.

While you might not officially have the supervisor at another university because of the regulations at your university (you should check with your department chair and supervisor), but you can always work very closely with these colleagues at another university. It is actually quite common, especially if your supervisor has a good relationship with another research some place else.

If you are having challenges with your current PhD supervisor, you should watch this video:

Can You Do Research At Another University?

Absolutely, you can do research at another university. You can research at another university in the following different ways, and all of these are common:

  • You travel to another city and want to use another university’s library to study or to borrow a book. This is common. They often have great places to grab a coffee and work.
  • You do research for a semester as a sabbatical or just hanging out. My mom used to say if you are loitering, you are just bumming around. In academia, if you are a serious researcher from a good school, it is actually encouraged for you to go visit and hang around another university. You might be able to arrange meetings with folks there, and if you are on sabbatical, sometimes you can get an office too.
  • You can partner with another researcher at the other university. Some universities have different resources than others. You will be surprised how different university resources are across even well known universities. You can often partner with this researcher at another university to gain access to these resources.
  • If you are interested in sabbaticals, check this video out:

How Do You Reach Out To A Research Professor?

If you want to research out to a research professor at another university, I would first run it by your advisor or department chair. You might be able to get inside information on this person. Often, you will find out if this person will respond, and/or if this person is nice. You will be surprised how much inside information is available by simply just asking someone who has already been there and done that.

Also, you want to be ethical and upfront with your advisors. They might want you to finish up working on a project with them first. Remember what project you are working on now means that you are foregoing another project that you could be working on. This may mean the different of your current advisor from getting research funding, grants, prizes, and even tenure.

Can You Transfer Your PhD To Another University?

Transferring your PhD to another university is tricky, and it is likely not recommended. There are different options that you might want to consider.

  • If you are only 1-2 years into your current PhD, consider just quitting your current university and starting fresh at the other one. This is very common, and it is a much cleaner cut than trying to negotiate anything. It really won’t matter in ten years, but it will save you a lot of headaches and stress in the short-term. If you are dealing with PhD headaches and bad experiences, you should read this blog post.
  • If you are about 1-2 years from finishing your PhD, I would just finish the PhD and seek out working with the other person under different arrangements. Perhaps, a visiting professor position, or post-doc will be very helpful for you. The reason is that a “done thesis is a good thesis.” Completing your PhD puts you in a much better position to negotiate on the job market than being “just” a student.
  • If you are looking for a post-doc position, you should watch this video:

Final Thoughts:

Working with another researcher at another university is a big decision. In order to do well in the academic career, you might want to consider working with other researchers from different universities. However, it does come with costs, and navigating the politics of academia can be quite challenging. If I were you, I would talk to senior scholars in near to you, and other people that you trust before you do so. You will definitely learn a lot!

Did you benefit from this post? Do you know of anyone at all that could use feedback on their writing or editing of their documents? I would be so grateful if you read this post on how to get feedback on your writing using or let others know about the R3ciprocity Project. THANK YOU in advance! You are the bees knees.

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