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I have been working in the UK for 8+ years, partially in academia and partially in industry, with satisfying results in both cases. I have been working fully-remote (from the UK) for the last year and I find this situation ideal for me. I am now thinking of moving back to my home country, Italy. I know that working fully-remote from the same country of your employer is one thing, working fully-remote "from everywhere" is another, and they require different types of contract.

I can easily find jobs as a fully-remote employee from my country if I am looking for industry jobs. However, I would really like to keep working in academia, and I have not been able to find any University ad that talks about the possibility of a fully-remote position "from everywhere" (or even just a "fully-remote" position from the same country as the University).

Does it mean that Academia will NOT make these types of fully-remote contracts? Or it's possible that this arrangement will be discussed separately once the first contact is made?

Notice that I am not limiting myself to UK Universities. Anything is fine. My field is Machine Learning research so I need nothing more than my laptop (the heavy work is often done on remote servers).

EDIT: Please consider that when I am talking about "working in academia" I am referring to "pure" research job, with little to none educational obligation. If this seems crazy to you, consider that it's what I have been doing for the past year.

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    The legal requirements may work against you, even if your employer agrees to it. For example, I am a UK citizen (soon to be) employed by a Spanish university. I must be legally resident in Spain (and paying tax there) to be employed there, and I imagine it would work the other way around, too. Brexit has exacerbated these issues, of course. May 24, 2021 at 11:48
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    What do you want to do for a university that can truly be done fully remote once the world is not in a Covid lockdown? You can't effectively teach fully remote, you can't interact effectively on research fully remote from everyone. Why would a university employ you fully remote?
    – Jon Custer
    May 24, 2021 at 13:16
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    Yes, you can do research all by yourself - what benefit does the university get from that? Social interactions (students to students, students to professors, professors to professors) are the core of the university's function.
    – Jon Custer
    May 24, 2021 at 16:05
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    Currently I am being paid through an ERC grant, so I have no education obligations. My question is about how to keep doing exactly that - but fully remote.
    – Vaaal
    May 24, 2021 at 16:10
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    @JonathanReez - Zoom calls in no way replace in-person interactions. At my lab we are incredibly happy to be back interacting in person. So much more information gets transferred live and in person compared with video. We may think Zoom is a replacement now since we have lived with it for a year. Just wait until you can be at a whiteboard with 2 other people and talk through things.
    – Jon Custer
    May 24, 2021 at 21:52

5 Answers 5

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No doubt there is someone, somewhere, who has a fully-remote contract from a university. However, it is not something I have ever encountered, and I think it is inherently unlikely to be something any traditional university wishes to offer in the near future. A university's 'business model' is built around advertising that their campus is a better place to be than the competition's (because libraries, or labs, or equipment, or people, or sports, or...). Advertising 'fully remote' jobs would simply serve to undermine that message. In addition, having remote (and particularly overseas-remote) employees creates administrative and legal concerns that universities are not well-placed to manage.

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  • I think organizations that overwhelmingly were doing distance learning pre-pandemic would be a counter example. "Our system works so well even our staff aren't on campus." I know there are at least a few of them in the US, no clue about in the UK. May 24, 2021 at 20:44
  • @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight I think we can say "traditional university" by definition is not remote. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader whether traditional is good or bad.
    – emory
    May 24, 2021 at 23:18
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    The largest universities use distance learning, and do not use the model described here. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_University May 24, 2021 at 23:31
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I'm not aware of any academic positions advertised as being fully remote. For universities with a sufficient number of online classes (which occurred even prior to the pandemic), it might be possible for someone to work remotely. There are still committee meetings and meetings with grad students that are usually expected to occur in-person, as well as research that might be difficult to do remotely. Some professors choose to live such that they have a long commute (possibly even requiring air travel) and are only on campus 2-3 days per week during which they fit their in-person meetings and classes.

Given that there are many more qualified applicants than positions for academia, there is less incentive for schools to give a fully-remote contract when they have many applicants willing to work in-person.

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You probably have at least a couple of options, but I'm not sure any of them are good.

  • You say that you are currently being paid through an external grant. If this grant pays your entire salary, and you would just like a university affiliation, then you might be able to line up some sort of "Visiting Scholar" position, similarly to a professor on sabbatical from their home university.

    However, it is probably impossible to transition to a paid position at the same university, if your external funding disappears.

  • Universities with a big online presence may hire online faculty. For example, Southern New Hampshire University is known for enrolling a large number of online students, and they hire remote.

    If going this route I would expect mediocre working conditions, poverty-level wages, and non-existent job security.

If you want working conditions, job security, and compensation similar to a research university, then for now your plans probably aren't workable.

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  • Would I be right in assuming that 'online faculty' would be predominantly teaching-focussed, rather than doing much research?
    – avid
    May 24, 2021 at 21:27
  • Well, I assume that's all you could get paid for anyway.
    – academic
    May 24, 2021 at 22:00
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If you have soft money and simply need a hosting institution, there exist institutions (not necessarily universities) that will host you and allow you to work anywhere. One possible example is here (this was the first I managed to find, and my linking to it does not constitute a recommendation; do your own due diligence before entering into any financial relationship). Or you may be able to find a university department willing to do essentially the same thing.

Some university research staff positions (probably not teaching positions post-COVID unless it's an "online" university) can be fully remote, but realising that potential may require an existing relationship with the department and some flexibility in the department. I live and work 600 miles away from my university, but I worked there first for four years and gained the trust of my research group leader and the department. Our group now includes multiple people that work remotely, one even from a different country, and some that didn't physically work at the university for a time. However, our university is a private institution, which gives it more flexibility than a public institution would, and I can't speak for any institution in Europe.

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  • Thank you, that's very useful. I have a very good relationship with my current University, I think the PI of my project is extremely happy about me, so I may be able to get an affiliation with them. Can I ask, out of curiosity, what is the institution you are affiliated with?
    – Vaaal
    May 25, 2021 at 7:38
  • You could try asking your PI if they would be comfortable with you working from Italy. If they say no, you may be no worse off than you are already (though beware burning bridges). If they are open to it, then you can try your department's administration. They or higher-ups in the university might say no, in which case you'd have to pursue an alternative solution.
    – Paul Price
    May 25, 2021 at 15:50
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I am also a machine learning researcher and have worked as a postdoctoral fellow (PD) and principle investigator (PI) at a Japanese university for more than five years.

I am not good at legal issues. So, I would like to mention about the culture of Japanese universities. So, please understand that this post is not related to administrative constraints.

As for the PD position, you may be able to find a position that is completely remote. As far as I have encountered, it depends on the PI's decision as to how flexible they are willing to work. If the PI is looking for someone to publish a great paper, you can say, "I'm willing to work completely remotely."

Of course, the level of flexibility will be determined by Japanese law and the rules of each university. But here, as I mentioned earlier, I am going to ignore them).

In fact, when I was working as a PD, my lab members could join any meeting using remote conferencing tools. One of my colleagues used to come to the lab about once a month.

If you are interested in, you can search for academic positions in Japan at J-REC IN. If a PI who is open to remote work is recruiting PDs there, you may be able to work full remote.

Unfortunately, if you are looking for a full remote PI position (tenure position), it is not possible in Japan.

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    thank you, a very useful, actionable suggestion! :)
    – Vaaal
    May 25, 2021 at 7:39

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