I've a teaching position in an engineering college in France since September 2021, and in a few years' time I'd like to get either a research-only or a mixed research and teaching position. With that in mind, I'm trying to get some research done in the fields of statistical/theoretical machine learning, although my ideal research domain is in the intersection of differential geometry and statistics, e.g. manifold learning, dimensional reduction, aspects of medical imaging or computer vision where one needs to do statistics/ML on manifolds etc, and my PhD was in pure math (in 2013).

Problem I'm facing: The problem I'm facing is that I'm in no way connected to the research part of the academia, so I don't get to travel to conferences. Also, my doctoral supervisor is a pure mathematician, and it's different from what I do now. My postdoc supervisor doesn't reply to my emails. I can't go to conferences, because I can't afford to pay hundreds of Euros to go there - normally these fees are covered by the research lab one is part of. I had a failed time in industry lasting for four years, and this made me totally isolated from academic research, that I truly love and want to get into.

Steps taken: I've reached out to several researchers in France telling them that I'd like to voluntarily be part of a project (without any position or payment), but never got a reply. I guess the reason is that they don't know me, so they don't feel like sharing the credits of a potential research article with a stranger. My postdoc supervisor ignored my emails. I've presented my work in an online seminar in a research group in front of a few people, that got decent feedback, but nothing enough to move things ahead - e.g. they had a postdoc position available, but they chose someone they knew although they considered my profile very good - something I'm tired of hearing and yet ultimately getting defeated by the candidates already known to the lab people.

Question: I understand that I'll have to streamline my research and get myself published if I'd like to get a research position someday. But given the above, what can I do to get my research started again that actually is in the interest of one of the research labs? I'm doing some research on my own, but I'm afraid that this won't be enough to get me where I want to go. Any leads will be appreciated with sincere appreciation!

Thank you very much!!

  • 4
    I'd like to voluntarily be part of a project (without any position or payment) Although reasonable offer if made from a student, from a skilled person, offering that is something doing mroe harm than good.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 11:14
  • 2
    a failed time in industry lasting for four years if you worked for 4 years, it does not look like failed time.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 12:34

2 Answers 2


Reading your question in the most abstract and objective way, the problem you are facing is how to get into already existing collaborations/networks.

It's difficult. You are realizing that somehow people have already their networks.

Put yourself in their shoes. You have running projects, with allocated funds, with people and roles already estabilished from before the funds even arrived. It is extremely unlikely they will be able to find space for a skilled person, because skilled person need to be taken onboard before the beginning, otherwise it will be difficult to find them during the project.

What you are doing, i.e. a skilled person offering free work is basically too unlikely to be true, so people are not ready to take you onboard because they never thought it is possible, nor they have a way to fit you in already tight designed project/collaborations.

However, what you can do is to try to get funds for yourself (and someone else). That way, you will start to have more positive feedbacks, because everyone in science would like to have more funds.

Start exploring the active calls for proposals. Start designing the project you would like to lead. Start asking support to write a proposal.

  • 2
    A skilled person willing to work for free for some limited amount of time is not too uncommon, but it still is a major headache to manage. Collaborating on a paper or two without having grant funding just to be able to have reasonable chances of success later is not unheard of, either (does not apply to OP's situation directly, but somewhat aligns with your suggestions). Then, of course, there are arguments about the ethicality of this "work for free" approach - as in, competing on value in a way that undermines labor protection.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 14:51
  • @Lodinn I agree, I think OP's specific case is "safe" with respect to labor protection, in a way that I cannot quantify apart from saying "OP has a job, OP is a peer among peers, OP would be absolutely free to not do what he would like to do" which is different than "a PhD student can work on the thesis in the free time" or starting a research knowing that "this research will need the help of a very skilled person, but we do not allocate a real budget for it because we know we can get this job done for free".
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:26

This advice is a bit different from that of EarlGrey and from some comments. The most important message I have is that if you want to join an existing collaboration then you have to have something to add and to make it clear what that is. That requires, usually, some knowledge of the specifics of the other project. And it may require some time to establish trust.

If you are adequately supported financially already, there is no need to say you don't need compensation, but just indicate that you seek a professional relationship. This is typical among peers in fields I know. People join up for the sharing of ideas and the advancement of scholarship. You give and you get, but it needn't be money.

If you want to join a group, first enquire of them about what it is that they do, if you can't learn it otherwise and see how you would fit. Focus on what skills you have that complement the skills they already possess and communicate them. But the communication might need to be over time, with a gradual acceptance of you and what you have to offer.

But, the key to moving from where you are to where you want to be is collaboration, preferably peer level collaboration, as you recognize, I think.

It may cost you something in money, however, as it might be necessary to make an in person visit over several days. Or even, several visits.

Some teaching colleges provide funds for professional development. If yours does or if you can get small travel/conference grants it would be a good way to meet people. I've worked at several not-primarily-research institutions that provided such funds. See what you can find.

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