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I recently started a PhD in Germany.

To broaden my knowledge in my field (Computational Sciences), I thought it might be a good idea to visit from time to time the institute from which I received my master's degree (another university also in Germany). There are many PhD students who I know and it would actually help me a lot for my own studies.

However, after giving me a warm welcome the secretary of that institute said that I am not allowed to work there anymore as I am not an employee of that institute.

On the other hand, I asked both professors, and none of them seems to have a problem with it.

So, while I admit that my approach is a bit naive and on industrial level I would of course not really be surprised with such a reaction, is there a certain procedure that I need to follow? Do I need to hand in an official request? Or are PhD students of different institutes working together on one's own not well regarded in general?

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    The comment by secretary sounds more like an issue with you physically working in their building (could be an insurance thing or a COVID thing) rather you working with their PhD students.
    – TimRias
    Aug 22, 2021 at 20:34
  • I would second the comment by mmeent - ask for clarification what specifically she is referring to, before jumping to conlusions.
    – user151413
    Aug 24, 2021 at 17:05

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You might want to clarify to the secretary of your old university that you are no longer there as a representative of your old university. Instead, you are now working as a PhD researcher at a new university, and on behalf of that new university, you are now delighted to be welcomed as a irregularly visiting researcher to your old university, for the benefit of scientific collaboration between both universities. Clarify that both professors agree that this is best for all involved.

I emphasize this, because the way you describe your interaction with the secretary ("not allowed to work there anymore as I am not an employee of that institute") indicates that the secretary might be reacting as if a random alumnus of the old university just drops by. They might react differently if you profile yourself as a guest researcher from another university. It can't hurt to bring a business card of your new position, if available.

Additionally, as @mmeent's comment points out, the secretary might be guarding Covid-specific policies w.r.t. building occupancy rate. The involved professors might not care for this sort of thing, and might not want to let these bureaucratic things stand in the way of scientific collaborations. But part of a secretary's tasks is to uphold university policies, so you may have to navigate these counteracting forces tactfully.

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    "Business card"? As a PhD student?
    – user151413
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:00
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    @user151413 I have worked at five distinct universities, all in countries that either are Germany or are close to Germany. At all those universities, PhD students could get business cards, just like postdoctoral researchers and faculty members.
    – user116675
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:05
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    How many of them did get business cards? (Though I acknowledge this might be subject dependent. I yet have to see a physics PhD or postdoc who carries business cards.)
    – user151413
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:25
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    Having business cards is common in my field. Do you have anything constructive to offer? If not, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore.
    – user116675
    Aug 23, 2021 at 17:55
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    As far as I am concerned, this is interesting information. Fields differ more than one would think. - As a side, it still feels odd to me to offer the secretary of one's former group a business card.
    – user151413
    Aug 24, 2021 at 16:59
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Don't let one monkey spoil your show. Since your professors have no problem, inquire about the name of some PHd students, talk with them and arrange a Zoom or Google Meet teleconference with them. You may not be in a lab envirionment, but maybe you have set up a barebones lab at your dwelling place??? You can do this on your own time, along with your peers, without your style being cramped. This might be a way to go.

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Sorry for answering this 2 years later. The accepted answer is missing one very important thing: there is something very Germany-specific about this "incidence".

After firing an employee or after the contract of an employee expires, the employer has to actively prevent the employee from just continuing to work, otherwise an implicit working contract can be legally implied that does not have a limited duration - and in the public service in Germany, this basically means until retirement. So if you have been a scientific employee with a limited duration contract, you continue to come to the office and nobody says something, then congratulations - you just sneaked your way into a lifetime research position after hiring a lawyer to close the trap.

This is the problem that the secretary is trying to prevent. It has nothing to do with Covid, and professors are frequently instructed to take care of this rule in the employment law.

It is of course somewhat at odds with the way academia works (such as having PhD students receiving a scholarship - since they never worked there, this problem does not occur, but only they switch to employee roles and later their contract ends, they have to be thrown out).

The inofficial way of handling this in partice is that once somebody has an employment elsewhere, this problem is normally just ignored, because it would be tricky for the former employee to claim to have two full-time positions at the same time, where one of them was just implied. But from a legal point of view, that may be not-so-valid a shortcut (sorry, IANAL).

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