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I am a junior research fellow with a bit of a luxury problem. I am in a field with many good, open problems. I have a grant which could easily support salary for a couple of exchange PhD students for say, six months, to solve some of those under my supervision - but how do I find those?

I have tried some of the obvious channels, asking network, including old supervisor. Asking around at conferences. Most senior people I talk to agree it would be a good idea - but I can't seem to get any good people to bite.

I am asking advise from people who have been in a similar situation - also students who have accepted such offers, what made you do it? What made you hesitate? Is the prospects of 6 months of relocation off-putting? Are you afraid what your supervisor might think? And for more senior people, whose students I would potentially snatch up: Would you recommend a good student to do something like this? Would you be annoyed that I "borrowed" your good student, just after you taught them all the difficult parts?

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    Reddit has sub-Reddits for students in different fields as well as scholars/researchers. There also are other student-based forums i.e. (eng-tips.com) etc. – The Guy Apr 30 '18 at 20:02
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    What’s an “exchange PhD student”? Do you mean visiting researchers? If so, is it customary for the host to pay them? As far as I’m aware they’d be paid from their usual money pot during that time. Or are you referring to covering the cost of lab consumables/… for that time? – Konrad Rudolph Apr 30 '18 at 23:30
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    Six months is too much time to put life on hold. PhD candidates usually do short term scientific missions of a couple of weeks to a month. – The Doctor Apr 30 '18 at 23:56
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    Have you tried mailing lists? – xuq01 May 1 '18 at 9:37
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    I'm curious to know what field you are working in. I am from India and know that for a fact that people here(read, students) whether phd or not would jump at a chance of being able to work with a professor abroad, especially when it's funded. – Shreya May 1 '18 at 19:11
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This is a bit of an expansion on aeismail's answer, which already covers what I expect to be the central issue - a 6-month internship with a "junior research fellow" is just not particularly attractive to many PhD students.

Put yourself into their shoes. Your project, even if leading to a nice article, probably does not contribute strongly to their own dissertations. Most PhD students in the Western world are fully funded, so the fact that you also have funding does not help them (they would basically be temporarily replacing one funding for another). Your reputation is probably not yet strong enough to be a good experience just for name recognition and letter purposes alone. This is not to say that there are no students out there that would be interested in that, but I would guess the majority is not and finding the ones that are is not trivial.

However, I am sure you have options:

  • The most obvious one is to take the funding for "a couple of students for 6 months" and arrange it in a way to fully fund one PhD student for their entire study. If necessary, try to co-fund if you have to from some other source.
  • Conversely, you can try to fund undergraduate research from your own community or university rather than convincing PhD students from abroad to come to you for a few months.
  • Try to work with your research collaborators to arrange some sort of exchange with them. If you have good connections to some other seniors in your field, set a collaboration up with some of them that includes a 6-month visit of one of their students at your site in the context of a larger project. This has the added benefit that a longer collaboration is surely more useful for the other senior, you, and the student than a one-shot visit and article.
  • Offer (paid) internships for students from developing countries. For such students, a paid visit to a stronger, more well-known university can be incentive enough. You will need some local contacts, though, to bring you in touch with interested students and help with screening of applications.

And for more senior people, whose students I would potentially snatch up: Would you recommend a good student to do something like this? Would you be annoyed that I "borrowed" your good student, just after you taught them all the difficult parts?

I would recommend it to the student only if we already worked together, or if I otherwise had a really strong opinion of you, or you had access to something that the student really needed for their own project (say, good industrial data). I would not be interested in you "borrowing" a student if it was not clear to me what would come out of it for the student (no, "publish an article" is by itself not good enough - the student would do the same back home).

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  • "A couple of students" probably means about two years' funding—not enough to fully support a student. – aeismail May 1 '18 at 2:20
  • @aeismail No, but how much off it is depends on location. In the UK you only need one more year, in central Europe maybe one or two years. – xLeitix May 1 '18 at 8:04
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    Accepted answer for the refreshing, brutal honesty: "- a 6-month internship with a "junior research fellow" is just not particularly attractive (...) Your project, even if leading to a nice article, probably does not contribute strongly to their own dissertations.(...) Your reputation is probably not yet strong enough to be a good experience just for name recognition and letter purposes alone. " This is exactly what I need to keep in mind when I approach people, so thank you for that. – nabla May 1 '18 at 19:50
  • "Most PhD students in the Western world are fully funded". That's probably true for the rich countries. In Latin America (basically half of the "Western world") we are not so lucky :( – Rodrigo Zepeda May 7 '18 at 21:07
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Your post has hit on the problem: you want some PhD students to come work with you for six months. This is a bit too long for a summer internship-like posting, but not really long enough to justify the work required for what would amount to a relocation. It's like a long temp assignment.

Perhaps you should be looking at trying to support some students who are just finished with their PhD's—or have just handed in their theses and are figuring out what to do next—at nearby universities. Or trying to arrange the funding to support a postdoc for a year.

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    Thank you for your comment - I had not considered that the duration itself might be sub-optimal. In my mind, six months would be adequate to take a small, well-posed problem and make it into a research article for the benefit of both of us. Unfortunately my grant provider will not allow me to hire a post doc with this funding, otherwise that would also be a good idea. – nabla Apr 30 '18 at 21:06
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    @nabla just want to say that it might be even more difficult to get post doc for a 6-month post, since post docs might have families, more personal responsibilities. it's even more difficult to uproot for a very temporary position. – PandaPants Apr 30 '18 at 22:01
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    Which is exactly why I would not consider that :) – nabla Apr 30 '18 at 22:03
  • The people just finishing or trying to finish a Ph.D. will have more than enough on their hands (writing a thesis, preparing a defense, writing applications, juggling fellowship deadlines,...). – skymningen May 2 '18 at 13:43
  • @skymningen Thanks for the catch. I meant “finished with” not “finishing up.” – aeismail May 2 '18 at 13:45
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I've been on both ends of the table.

As a Phd Student what would attract me:

  • assistance with accommodation (not just $$, but that would be very helpful, but have that sorted out would be a plus, because housing is often a headache inducing problem, at least certainly in cities and around big universities, and depending on when the 6-month post would start), so having some help on this front would be very attractive
  • clearly define in your advert (if this is the case) that the student would be given a self-contained project (i.e. solving A specific problem) under your supervision, and that by the end of the post, there's likely a paper that can come out of it.
  • along the same line, lists any specific techniques that your lab specializes and whether the student will learn/use these techniques.

As a postdoc hiring students:

  • am not a faculty member so can't speak to that, but have hired students as a postdoc. It helps to have your collaborators put in a good word for you, for example, if you have colleagues in the same field (but not doing the same thing), they might be interested in collaboration in the form of having students exchange and spending the 6-month working on that collab. project, obviously things can go wrong, from what i heard, but that would also depend on the discipline and relationship between the labs etc. But it's one place where you may find students whose expertise lies generally within what you might need, and will likely come with their supervisor's endorsement.
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Try getting a Danish PhD student. At least as the University I am currently working at in Denmark, an extended stay is obligatory. But then again, the students home university would probably pay for the stay, so your first world problem of too much funding might persist ;)

Other than that, I would go through recent publications citing your work. There ought to be some PhD students who know your name already, and work in similar areas. Those are the ones I see most likely to join you, and those I would invite.

It's probably better if you contact their supervisor first, as you don't want to steal away a PhD student for half a year, without the supervisor agreeing on it. But if he is willing, he can pass on the offer to the student.

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Obviously funding is an issue. Can you pay relo/salary/housing what? It sounds like you have some but not clear how much.

Why do they have to be Ph.D. students? If anything, this sort of thing is better for a post-doc or junior researcher similar to yourself (done with his main project, able to get traction on a problem and publish in half year). I have seen these come from Japan or France to the US at a major research university for 6 month stints. They enjoyed it and got good stuff done. Not sure exactly how it worked with the money but these were people with secure positions at home, but more junior.

Some appeal of the place would be helpful. Anyone doing this is going to want to get something out of the experience more than just "chance to work on your problem for 6 months". Warm climates have appeal to cold weather types (in winter). California is appealing at all times of the year. The US is intriguing to Europeans and Asians. (The converse also, but maybe to a lesser extent.) Being in/near a big city is interesting. Etc.

P.s. Not a canned answer, but hopefully this helps you think through the problem.

P.s.s. It would also be more helpful if you told us the field, area of problems. There may be generalizable insights to other fields, but there also may be specific things about what you are doing that make it harder/easier to attract people or to have them be effective for short duration.

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