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I started a PhD program in the US, which is a standard 5-year US grad program, and soon after starting it (recently), I received an offer for a PhD position I'd applied for in Europe (in Germany), which is a standard 3-year thesis-only European PhD.

My questions:

How should I ask my advisor in Europe to allow me to do a "joint PhD" with my current university in the US? He told me before I get the offer in my early contacts with him that if I decide to start the PhD later (say, for completing a project, coursework, etc. elsewhere) he's ok with that and flexible regarding the start date of my contract (there's a default start date in the current contract though). But to wait until I get to candidacy in the US and then go to work with him, I'd need to ask him to freeze my offer for almost 2 years. That sounds too long of a deferral to me and I don't want to make him change his mind and tell me something like "Stay there then and apply again two years later if you want"! What is a good way of sharing my thoughts with him, explaining what I think the ideal path is for me, and asking him to help me walk that path? I also have the option to go to Europe for a couple of months, start working with him and while I'm there either make arrangements for returning to the US until I get to candidacy or just withdraw from my current program and finish my PhD there. Would it be a better idea to leave this conversation for soon after starting the PhD in Europe or is it better to have it now?

The issue is that there is no on-going collaboration between the two groups and, as far as I know, not even the two departments. Moreover, a joint PhD is not defined in any of the programs, so it'd be an odd procedure. I know that the European institution is very open to outside collaborations, it actually actively encourages that, and it's not at all uncommon for PhD students there to find external collaborators on their own and even get financial and administrative assistance to go and spend some time in the corresponding institution and work with them.


Further explanation about the situation:

Since I prefer the advisor in European, I'd strongly prefer to do my thesis there, especially because I don't have an advisor in the US yet and I may not be able to work with the professor I'd like to work within my US department as he already has reached his usual limit for PhD students and won't have any graduated for a few years My advisor in Europe knows that I've already started a PhD program in the US and I've told him that I'm ready to go there and start the PhD in his group instead.

Now, given the structures of the programs, and the facts that the two departments (my US PhD, and the European one) are actually working in areas that are closely related, there is a lot of shared interests, and their approach could be very productively combined with each other, I'm thinking of the possibility of doing my PhD in both of the institutions through a joint arrangement. That would be the ideal option for my academic (and even personal) well-being. That way, I hope that I'd get to complete the coursework and other aspects of the doctoral training (such as TAship) at my US institution, but do the major part of my thesis in the group of the advisor in Europe, while being co-advised with my preferred advisor at my current (US) institution. In that case, the US professor may be more likely to work with me too as he'd have to spend less time on advising me. Also, the issues regarding the distance with my significant other will be solved significantly more smoothly (this is the personal aspect).


P.S. I actually don't care about an official "joint PhD" with a degree from both institutions. I'm ok with a regular PhD degree from either one of the institutions. My main purpose for doing this is to complement the research I'd be doing in the European group while working on my thesis, with the training I'll receive in the US, and also take advantage of the enrichment the work with the faculty in the US would bring to my research. So, I don't mind just dropping out of the US department after 2-3 years as long as there's some guarantee I'll have the position in Europe, or possibly, doing most of my thesis work in Europe in an informal setting but getting the degree from my current department in the US.

P.P.S. My department in the US has no idea about this yet and I'm not worried about that since I think their role becomes important when I reach candidacy. Am I wrong about that?

closed as off-topic by Solar Mike, user68958, user3209815, Richard Erickson, Azor Ahai Jun 4 at 21:16

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – Solar Mike, Community, user3209815, Richard Erickson, Azor Ahai
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Please simplify the question. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 2 at 2:27
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    @AnonymousPhysicist In what way? Do you mean the length, or should I split it into sections more clearly, or is there something else that's not simple enough? (Sorry for the poor structure and the long explanation) – aste Jun 2 at 2:31
  • You don't really mention the possibility of simply resigning your position in the US, and taking the European offer. Why? – nabla Jun 2 at 19:21
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    @nabla That is an option. I meant to clarify in the P.S. that just dropping out of the program in the US after finishing the important part of the training is one of the ideal options. The possibility to drop out now and just go to the Europe is the natural alternative for me if this "joint" arrangement doesn't work out. – aste Jun 2 at 20:43
  • Some universities offer courtesy appointments in these cases, though that will only happen if your European advisor is respected in your US institution and really wants to advise you – Spark Jun 3 at 12:41
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I don't think a true joint PhD, with both universities appearing on your diploma(s), is a viable option here. When these exist, it is normally as part of an ongoing program which has been negotiated between the universities and formally approved at high levels of their administrations. It's not something that would be created for the benefit of one student.

One approach that's sometimes used could look like this: you remain enrolled at the American university, but do some or all of your research under the guidance of the European professor. You continue to have Prof. America as your advisor "on paper", but maybe he doesn't do much more than check in with you occasionally, and sign the forms when you're ready to graduate. Prof. Europe might officially be a "co-advisor" or "dissertation committee member" or something. However, this requires that Prof. Europe be willing to dedicate time to work with you in exchange for little or no "credit" from her home university. After all, she gets paid to advise the graduate students of their own university, not those of the rest of the world. It could happen if Profs America and Europe have a close professional relationship, but probably not if they're strangers to each other.

I think you just need to have an open-ended talk with Prof. Europe. Explain your options, and ask for her advice. Make clear what you'd expect from her in each case, so that she can evaluate whether she's willing. You're going to have to become comfortable having conversations like this if you want a successful experience in grad school. And if Prof. Europe doesn't react well to this conversation, or isn't willing to offer any flexibility, then maybe you'll learn that you don't want her as an advisor after all.

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