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We have a few questions on offering to give a talk at a university. And the general response is that is pretty acceptable. It is basically asking to be invited as a speaker.

What I am wondering about is:

I am asking to be invited to speak and to be given a working space.

Details:

My university has a spare office or two in every department for "visiting academics". Is this typical of universities? I believe they are intended for professors on sabbatical. But perhaps not exclusively so, last year an engineer with a well-known company's research group invited himself to use one such space in our university. We also have a few spare spaces in the lab, I've never seen our space used by a visiting student, but friends in other labs tell me they fairly regularly have visiting student's in their labs.

I am going to a conference about a month before my PhD thesis is due. It is in a city where I have a few contacts. I've heard about some of the work their groups are doing, and I'd like to be able to meet with them. I'ld also like to have a place to sit and work on my thesis when I am not. I thought I might talk to my contacts and see if I could arrange to be invited to give a talk about my thesis work, and also be given some space to work. (Whether a desk in a lab, or in an office, is of little consequence.) I thought perhaps a week before the conference would give me plenty of time to meet with people and have deep discussions etc.

Asking for an invitation is of-course a favour, but I'm not sure how big a favor I'd be asking.

  • Is asking to be invited to visit a lab for a week a big favor?
  • Is asking for space to work on top of that a greater favor? (or is that implied?)
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    It's certainly possible. Just ask the PI hosting you politely. – xuq01 May 27 '18 at 9:15
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    @xuq01 you mean PI potentially hosting me, you mean. Since the question is basically can I reasonable ask my contacts to host me – Lyndon White May 27 '18 at 9:52
  • Hm, yep. But then it can't hurt to ask politely and the worst you'll get is a "no". – xuq01 May 27 '18 at 10:25
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    worst case, library and eduroam :) – Fábio Dias May 28 '18 at 0:26
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I disagree with the existing answers. I don't see this as a "big ask" at all, as long as your expectations are reasonable. You should not expect to get a nice individual office, but if I know you at all I would definitely be able to find you a space somewhere in my or my division's labs. My students have also done similar visits in the past, sometimes in labs that we did not have extensive connections to, so I guess other people also don't see this as a huge deal.

Of course you should have some idea what you and the host will get out of the visit - people may not be thrilled to host you if this is really just a cover-up for a private visit. Conversely, for a week-long visit, you should also not expect to be "entertained" for the entire week. People will not be able to cancel everything for an entire week.

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It's unlikely that a department would extend such a courtesy to a visiting graduate student—normally, priority is given to faculty (or equivalent). It might be possible that the research group that would be hosting you might have a free desk in their shared lab or office space, but I would think anything more than that is potentially a "big ask," as it depends on space constraints. It doesn't hurt to ask, but I would definitely ask "Do you have a workspace for visitors?" rather than "invite yourself" to an office space.

As for the issue of a weeklong stay, it's quite unusual for a grad student to stay that long, in my experience. It does happen, but usually there's an existing collaboration or connection between the host group and the guest's group. You'd probably need a good reason to justify a stay that long otherwise that goes beyond just giving a seminar.

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  • Ah, I will edit the question, I didn't mean it to be specifically about asking for an office space; but for a desk, whether is is in a lab or in an office is of no consequence. – Lyndon White May 27 '18 at 2:25
  • @LyndonWhite I should have said "shared lab or office space." Ultimately, as a grad student, I'd go about asking the research group that would be hosting you first. – aeismail May 27 '18 at 2:33
  • Would the thing be more to ask if I can visit their lab for a week, and and then simply run with the assumption that during that week, at some-point would like to be able to sit-down? Is asking to visit a lab for a week itself a big favor? – Lyndon White May 27 '18 at 2:37
  • @LyndonWhite For a grad student, a week-long stay is unusual but not unheard of. You'd have to have a good reason beyond just a seminar for a stay that long. – aeismail May 27 '18 at 2:41
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    @aeismail I disagree that this is a "big ask" or even unusual for a grad student. I have hosted multiple students, and my students have been hosted multiple times for such durations. Oftentimes this was due to a long-standing collaboration, but I would also be quite open to host somebody just to set up a new potential collaboration. I also don't really see the big deal - the visiting student probably doesn't expect a nice single office, and a spot somewhere in a lab for a week should be arrangeable very informally. – xLeitix May 27 '18 at 20:30
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Unless you know someone fairly well, asking for anything other than a meeting is a big ask. While you seem to see some value is spending a week there, what’s in it for your host?

My experience is that faculty are often coy towards strangers about their current work and lab setup. Why would these people let you visit their lab? In some sense you are a competitor (since you work in a closely related topic), so why do you expect these people will show you the stuff that they are working on right now?

It seems you’re assuming people there will have time or make time for you. This is far from given. You might be given a chance to give a group seminar (or something similar) but again: why would a professor spend valuable time with you rather than with his students or with immediate collaborators?

Getting workspace comes with another obvious issue: what kind of access do you expect? Do you need/want off-hour access? Do you need a key to access the office? If not, who will let you in? Who is liable if something goes missing, or there is some accident or whatever? In other words, do you know your “host” sufficiently well so that she/he can vouch for you if something happens?

The situation of course is clear if you are invited for a week. Likely your host would see some value in your stay, and would know you or your thesis advisor sufficiently well to “trust” you with office access.

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If you already know somebody (staff, not student) in that department, I think it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Make it clear that they are free to say "no".

Since your main objective seems to be to have somewhere to work from while you are in a different city, then another route you could explore is to ask your university library whether there is an arrangement to let you use the other university's library facilities, and work there.

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