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I am an international student who's currently in a mess regarding my work permit application. I was initially supposed to get my permit the latest by March. But now, I don't know when my application will come through. I completed my Ph.D. thesis submission in December. Now, my Ph.D. supervisor had offered me a postdoc position and I was to start it as soon as I get my permit. However, my future is seeming quite bleak at the moment. I can't return to my home country as my country is under lockdown and my application is under processing.

I am panicking as I don't have any official position since January. I have been working on the pending Ph.D. projects since February and my advisor has ensured me that he can mention in my future recommendation letters that I had begun my postdoc in February.

However, the financial situation apart (which is really bad), I am getting disheartened about my freefalling academic profile. I am having anxiety over my predicament for last few weeks. I am not able to concentrate on my work and not able to study thereby wasting more time. My decision of joining my Ph.D. supervisor for my first postdoc was to learn and explore a new technique that would have enabled me to expand my skillset and would have made me more suitable for good positions.

But now, I am just wasting my time, working 2 hours or less every day and getting minimal work done. I am not getting the motivation to work hard or study new topics.

Is there any advise, comments that you can provide under my condition? How to address the gap in my CV? What should I do?

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  • If you aren't allowed to work until you get the permit, could your supervisor suggest some papers or books for you to study while you're waiting? Studying now could make your work easier later, when you get the work permit. – Andreas Blass May 2 '20 at 1:33
  • @AndreasBlass yes, we have already made a plan for the postdoc work. But, without a contract, I am feeling lost and worried about the lack of official position on my CV. – Shuman May 2 '20 at 4:01
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I can't help you with your mental issues about loss of focus, but it would be good to keep in mind that you aren't alone. Everyone else currently studying for a doctorate or in a non-permanent position is in the same mess caused by things completely outside your control or influence. You aren't falling relative to anyone unless you give up. The "gap" will mean very little if anything. People will understand it because they (we) too are living through it.

What governments do about work permits is also outside your control. Make progress on the things you can control and influence.

See a counselor if you need to about depression, but be assured that people will take the current worldwide disruption in to account when things settle down. In some ways, you might even think of it as a respite from schedule demands since the delays are inevitable.

Also, you can't change past decisions. "... would have enabled ..." means nothing at this point. You are where you are. Make a schedule, get some exercise, take a nap, talk to a counselor, consult with your advisor, ... anything. But also relax. If the world ends it won't matter. If it doesn't then you will get back on track along with everyone else.

Have patience with yourself as with everyone.

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  • Thank you for your advice and comment. It is really strange time. I feel guilty about not utilizing the time as I had planned at the time of graduating. I know I should not worry about things not in my control, but I can't help feeling depressed. Thanks again. – Shuman May 1 '20 at 19:35
  • Absolutely excellent answer and very fairly put. – Trunk Jan 27 at 14:56
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Taking a few snippets from your question;

I am getting disheartened about my freefalling academic profile.

How to address the gap in my CV?

I think you overestimate the importance of a perfect smooth career profile.

When someone looks at your CV and sees a gap, the real question they ask is "is this person going to have trouble again and will it affect our institute/company?"

In this case, the gap would be caused by the pandemic, not because something that's wrong with you personally. Compare that to someone trying to explain a gap because they spent time in prison for example. So it should be relatively easy for you to explain that the gap wasn't your fault and doesn't mark you as a future liability.

But now, I am just wasting my time, working 2 hours or less every day and getting minimal work done. I am not getting the motivation to work hard or study new topics.

Before, I said the gap wasn't your fault. However, you can impress future employers by showing how you deal with adversity, and make the best of bad circumstances.

While you can't work on your dream projects, you can try to find another worthwhile project to work on, that perhaps doesn't require the same degree of formal permits. For example:

  • Working as a tutor for junior students might not require much formalities, but there's going to be plenty of demand for it. Lots of junior students are also not having an easy time with their studies after all.
  • Online projects; set up a blog about your research specialty and write introductory tutorials. It shows you being productive, and does some portfolio building.

Later on if you're being interviewed and they ask about the gap, you can say "well, when I couldn't work because the agency that did permits was closed, I had to keep busy, so I made these things..." And then you show some useful things. That sort of make-the-best-of-it problem-solving attitude would actually mark you as a very desirable employee.

Another thing that can help to keep up your spirits and reduce the feeling of isolation is to find things in the institute to get involved in. It's hard to stay motivated all on your own, it gets easier if you got some peers. For example:

  • Take some classes. They don't have to be in your primary field. Especially good if they're classes with team assignments that keep you in contact with other students.
  • Ask your supervisor if there's some kind of faculty seminar or lunch lecture thing that you could join in even though not all the paperwork is done yet. This allows you to at least get to know some more people in the institute.

If you've been keeping connected like this and next year they ask about the gap in your formal CV you can tell them that you as good as worked there, they just couldn't get the paperwork going. But here's what you did to make use of the time...

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  • Many very good points made. – Trunk Jan 27 at 14:57
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It's a common observation that the high investment in nervous energy during a PhD programme produces a severe come-down immediately after the award. The job taken up afterwards often seems "stupid" and "boring" for most of the first year. You may get away with this attitude in a job in industry - but you won't in academia as there is a continuous belt of bright boys & girls coming through. Neither should ironical comments on follies of current PhD candidates be allowed to fellows as an outlet for their exhaustion or frustration.

Maybe you made a mistake in going straight through to a fellowship - although I see your work permit situation gave you no other option.

But now everything is where it is - and you simply have to do your research fellowship as honest work rather than an inspired activity. We all have to at times: people grieving for family members suddenly lost have to do this days after the funeral.

So do all the sensible things like getting up early, eating healthily and doing your 9 - 5 at least. Emotionally most folks around the campus - and outside it - will be with you. The inspiration will return, slowly and surely.

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