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My current situation is that I am stuck teaching in a couple of universities that do not support the research at all in my country of origin. I am 38 years old and I have finished a MSc degree in Europe (one year ago), but I find it pretty hard to get a funded PhD position until now.

Sometimes I really feel discouraged and depressed because I really like to do research, but is pretty hard to do it without economical support; and more difficult to share ideas if my current place of work has that null approach to research.

My question is, how I can get feedback from other professors around the world and expose my ideas? Maybe with the hope that they will like to guide me in their field of specialty or maybe doing a paper together. I know that a lot of good professors in their own field are pretty busy, so I think it would be not polite to approach to them, by email, tell them about my ideas and ask for academical support (not monetary, but about guiding and feedback).

The field that I like to do research is Computer Science. I have only 5 publications in different areas, but I would really like to do more.

Any suggestion?

  • 4
    Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, is (was?) an independent researcher in computer science who's done some excellent work. – Geremia Apr 16 '15 at 1:41
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Firstly, 5 papers on completion of your Masters is pretty good (for comparison, I had 1 rejected paper at that stage). Even though they are in different areas, they demonstrate your researching skills.

Secondly, in regards to the PhD and in particular, funding - I have a few suggestions:

  • Research not only what the academics' specialities are, but also the scholarship/funding opportunities that the universities have on offer.

  • Contact the academics, asking about their research, this way you'll express your interest without giving away all of your ideas. Once you build a rapport with the academics, then enquire about co-authoring a paper.

  • Perhaps look into working at a university (library, research assistant etc), so, look at the job opportunities.

  • most of all, don't give up!

This is, by no means an exhaustive list and I am sure, other members here will provide more in depth answers, but it something to think about.

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    A master's candidate with five papers is good. Someone fifteen years removed from their degree with five papers is not nearly so good. – aeismail Aug 17 '13 at 20:22
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    I completely agree with the first sentence. Five publications as a master's student is quite impressive! One point I would add: Contact your MS advisor and your other senior coauthors, if any, and ask for their help. You'll need their letters of recommendation anyway. – JeffE Aug 17 '13 at 20:23
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    @aeismail I really do not see the reason of your comment. For what I know age is not a problem nor for studying neither for making research – Layla Aug 17 '13 at 22:06
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    @Layla: The question is when you earned your master's degree. If you earned it recently (last five years or so), then there's relatively little problem. If, however, your degree is a number of years old, and five papers is your cumulative career total, that isn't nearly as helpful. – aeismail Aug 17 '13 at 23:17
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    oh thanks @aeismail, sorry for the confusion. I have obtained my master´s just one year ago – Layla Aug 18 '13 at 1:07
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  1. Set up a webpage where you put your CV, papers, projects, everything about yourself as a professional. The people should be able to access this information at a click of a button, not through long search or e-mail exchange.

  2. Go to conferences and other events where you can meet people and get acquainted with them. Try to give a talk there or, at least, to present a poster. Hang on the CS Stack exchange and other professional sites. About 10% of my knowledge of who is who comes from MO interactions and I suspect that many people there would never hear of me otherwise either.

  3. Use the grapevine. Tell your friends about the situation, they'll let their friends know, etc.

  4. Direct E-mail is also possible but you'll have to put something on the table at the opening move. Ideally, it should start with "Dear Prof. ... You asked on/in .... whether .... is true. The answer is .... (see my attached paper)." Then you may confidently end with "By the way, I am currently looking for ... " (just do not request too much) and nobody will be able to resist. You can put a few lower cards on the table as well but starting with "I have this wonderful idea, I just don't know where to apply it" will, most likely, earn your mail a guaranteed permanent position in the trash box with possible honorable mention in the spam filter blacklist.

  5. Get into the habit of spending some time every day looking at what's going on in the field you are interested in and reading.

  6. Read the job advertisements regularly. With math. all you need is to go to mathjobs.org I don't know if there is a CS analog of it but you can find that out. You never know what and when may come your way, so be always ready to move quickly when an opportunity presents itself.

In short, get noticed and get your past achievements exposed plus look for every opportunity to engage into a communication and joint ventures with everyone whose work looks decent to you. Remember, however, that, at least in your position, you will need to think of what other people like and are doing, not try to seduce them to think of your own ideas and projects! (By the way, I find this modus operandi very beneficial regardless of one's status). People will go out of their way for you only if you demonstrate that you can go out of your way for them first.

I would advise against applying for grants, etc. until you get known at least a little bit. Rejections won't help you in any way and the free money is so scarce nowadays that even people with established reputation don't always get their awards.

  • MO? Not sure what that abbreviation means. Please expand! – aeismail Aug 17 '13 at 20:23
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    MathOverflow: mathoverflow.net It is funny that you are here now and haven't ever heard of it :). – fedja Aug 17 '13 at 20:27
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    A clarification: mathjobs.org is a great site, but it is mostly focused on academic jobs for Ph.D. mathematicians (and some in industry), and primarily in North America. It's not so useful for those without Ph.D.'s looking for funded opportunities for further study, which is the asker's situation. Saying it's "all you need" is an exaggeration. – Nate Eldredge Aug 17 '13 at 20:56
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    This is what he formally states as his objective, but the rest of the post contradicts it quite a lot. "How can I get feedback and expose my ideas?" is not a question you ask a graduate admission committee or a potential adviser, for example. Anyway 1-4 apply even if we restrict ourselves to this interpretation (especially 1-3), and, unfortunately, the last paragraph still stands. – fedja Aug 18 '13 at 3:20
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    Not really. Most advisers would be wary of graduate students who propose their own research agenda at the first meeting (for reasons ranging from their own incompetence in the particular subject to the ideas being too raw to make any sense of to the question why a person who is already set up on what he'll be doing needs an adviser at all). As everyone mentioned here, if you want to enter into a collaboration and you are not the boss from the onset, you'd better pick up what the other person is doing rather than telling him what you want to do... – fedja Aug 18 '13 at 15:15
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I think the situation described applies increasingly in most countries. My university doesn't fund me for research (in fact some years back our government said - you do 30% research do you? and took 30% from the university budgets and made it grant funding). My standard working week goes quite easily on teaching, supervision and administration. You have to make time for research, you have to do research in your own time as well, and often the writing (papers and grant applications) will mostly be done in your own time.

The short answer is, just do it. Read in the areas of your interest. When you see a problem or an opportunity, jump on it. There are many areas of research where you can work totally on paper/computer (it seems you have access to both paper and a computer). Start with what you can manage yourself, then propose projects that students can work on, then leverage these to get small grants (or just buy small bits of equipment yourself - I do). Then publish, starting at workshops and conferences (where you can meet people and get feedback) and working up to transactions (short papers) and major journals (long paper). These runs on the board will allow you to get increasingly better publications, increasingly bigger grants, better support fro your university, and more chance of getting a job elsewhere.

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