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(Too Long; Didnt Read members of academia.stackexchange, read the text in bold only)

I am a PhD student in one of the Hong Kong Universities. For those that do not follow news, Hong Kong has been through turbulent social and political changes for more than a year now. As it happens, these changes correlate with ever increasing pressure on me through-out the last year.

To the best of my knowledge, I have not associated myself with any political stand, nor showed support for either side. Despite my non-involvement, there are situations where I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, since the university was directly affected by the unrests and people have noticed (supervisor, other PhDs).

Also, to the best of my knowledge, I am not involved in academic sins, such as improper communication (quarrels with supervisor, other PhDs, technical staff, department leader, department staff), academic dishonesty (faking progress/results/documents) or similar. Further, I can truthfully say that I do not have conflicts with people around me in general, nor family, friends, and especially in academia I keep my opinions down, since it is a very small place. Further, I am not unproductive, lazy or stupid, but I have several publications as the first author (conferences and journals, that are relevant to my field).

In summary, I do not think I am a problematic PhD or evil person, and I believe there is a cause to the issues described below, that is external to my doing (it is not caused by my wrong doing, but I do not speculate as to what exactly it can be).


Situation now: I feel I am actively being pushed-out of the university. I do not have support from my supervisor, neither material/financial, nor on personal level. The supervisor kicked me out of PhD groups used to share information. Further, my forms do not get processed at the department level (no one is willing to provide signature, even if the form is rejected). I was directly told not to contact anyone (Professors) / cooperate with anyone (Companies).

There are other unflattering situations which I will not list, to keep identity secret. But all of this correlate with the unrests. Before October 2019, my progress and relation with supervisor, staff and PhDs was normal.

From comments: I pointed out correlation and I am not here to judge causation or specific relations among academia and politics. I can add that my supervisor lost a (non-specified due to anonymity) position, which s/he didnt take lightly. This also correlates with the unrests as it happened right after the main wave.


My view: I think I have formally proven myself as a researcher/PhD. I have produced and published relevant work. And as such, I should technically finish my PhD by the summer 2021. But considering the current situation, this is unlikely. Further, the ranking of the university is not bad, neither the impact factor of my publications.

Can I resolve this situation, such that I receive the PhD degree (somewhere else)? If I reach to someone, how do I describe my situation? Can I address the political pressure in front of other professors from unaffected regions, if enquiring about potential solution/help/opinion?

P.S. This is not a dispute with single person (supervisor or other). The department leader is not impartial. There is no third-party committee (the supervisor is at the top of everything, no relevant co-supervisors or other staff). I am willing to relocate myself to Europe, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan. I do not want to start again, technically there is no reason.

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  • I have no idea what the answer to your question is, but have you tried reaching out to people in universities in the places you mentioned and asking if they have some position you could take, perhaps as a PhD student? Do you have some collaborators or former professors who would be able to write you a recommendation? – user128124 Sep 29 '20 at 16:27
  • Thank you for suggestion. I am actively working on reaching out to people. My worries are related to presenting the situation, I have no idea why this is happening to me, but as I mentioned, there is a clear starting point. – Ano nym Sep 29 '20 at 16:32
  • "academic sins, such as improper communication (quarrels with supervisor, other PhDs, technical staff, department leader, department staff)" -- how can these be sins? – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 29 '20 at 19:39
  • You can always switch university. However, it is unlikely you will graduate on the stated timeline. Other universities have their own process; e.g., at my university, you need to be some number of years before you can submit your thesis. – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 29 '20 at 19:41
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    @scaaahu I didnt mean this to be controversial and deleted it from the text. I just pointed out the potential political tension. Please, do not downplay the situation by referring to mask-wearing. – Ano nym Sep 30 '20 at 6:43
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I expect that typical European professors will be sufficiently aware of the situation in Hong Kong to understand that some PhD students will feel pressured to leave; and to be sufficiently sympathetic to the democracy movement to not think any less of those students. Mentioning political pressure should do a lot to overcome the usual stigma against people changing PhD positions. That you have not actually engaged in activism is not going to be relevant.

Some universities will have minimum candidate periods for PhD students, and will be more or less flexible in waiving them for you. I would not worry about that too much in advance, contact suitable supervisors and ask about what accommodations can be made for you. They'll know best how to work the local administration.

Since you will want to complete a particular project for your PhD, you really want the right people as new supervisor. Someone who already knows your published work will be ideal.

For context, a few years ago the Saudi government decided that all Saudi-funded PhD students in Canada (of which there were a lot) had to immediately leave and move to a different country. While this was undoubtedly very stressful for the students, my impression was that there were plenty of understanding European professors willing to help.

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  • Well, taking PhD students without knowing their background is a huge risk. Even within my school, we have an unspoken rule whereby we do not take accept another colleague's students. – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 29 '20 at 19:46
  • @Prof.SantaClaus Surely a PhD student has more background than a PhD applicant: The work they've already produced. So, surely, accepting a colleague's students is beneficial. (Poaching students from a colleague within a school remains the unspoken rule!) – user2768 Sep 30 '20 at 8:12
  • @user2768 well, in many cases, students jump ship because they are weak students and want to work on 'easier' projects. – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 30 '20 at 9:02
  • North American universities are also likely to welcome students fleeing political conflict. However, I think the asker had better come up with a more detailed explanation than "I was at the wrong place at the wrong time." – Anonymous Physicist Sep 30 '20 at 9:06
  • @Prof.SantaClaus Of course, sorry, I was commenting in the context of students in HK – user2768 Sep 30 '20 at 9:08

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