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Can a researcher work full-time in two universities on a rotational basis?

For instance, say someone works in a university 'A' in Europe from February to May and then works in a university 'B' in the Middle East from October to January, etc.

Is it possible?

Has anyone done that before?

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  • It is totally possible. Two of the professors who taught me work full-time at two different universities in Europe on a rotational basis (first semester at university A and then second semester back to university B)
    – Neuchâtel
    Nov 15, 2022 at 9:31

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I take your question to mean that you want two part-time jobs at different universities that together form one full-time job. If you want two full-time jobs, then forget about that ( How to get two paid affiliations? ).

Unlike Wolfgang I do think that it is possible without first winning a Nobel prize. Some countries (like the Netherlands) are much more flexible when it comes to part-time work than others (like Germany). It possible to find two part-time jobs in two flexible countries and make good arrangement with both universities to make that work. However, it is not easy:

  • Finding two jobs is more difficult than finding one job, and since you have special requirements it will be more than twice as difficult.
  • The travel is fun for a while, but will quickly become a chore
  • You need to find two places to live, which could either become expensive or cause a lot more organization work on top of all the extra organization work you have to do anyhow.
  • Getting the schedules to work will be an absolute pain: if one university works with trimesters and the other with semester you have a problem. Even if both work with semesters, they will probably start at different times.
  • For that reason you will probably not get up to a full 100% job, but maybe two 40% jobs

Financially, you should expect such an arrangement to be a loss. In terms of time and effort, you should expect it to be a loss. You need to have another very strong reason for accepting those losses. For example, I have seen such an arrangement for international couples who want their children to fully experience both cultures.

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Anything can be done as long as it does not violate the law. In your case, you just need to find two employers who are willing to give you a job contract that allows for what you propose -- namely, a contract that pays your for six months of work per year, and gives you unpaid leave for the remainder of the year; or a contract that pays you for 50% work throughout the year, with the expectation that you spend 50% of the year on location.

Is that practicable? That is a question that depends on the person and the universities involved. If you have received a Nobel prize, then you can negotiate pretty much whatever you want with any university in the world because they will be eager to have you on their faculty, and I suspect that a fair number of Nobel prize winners have exactly the sort of arrangement you suggest. If, on the other hand, you're a second year faculty at Podunk State University, with ten publications and 200 citations, then you probably don't have the negotiation power to do that: If you go to your department head and ask whether you could go to a 50% position where you're only going to be in town for six months of the year, the department head will likely say "That is not worth our time and money; we wish you well should you decide to go that other university on a permanent basis".

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    At least in Europe I see people with somewhat wacky multi-university appointments quite regularly. We have at least one professor with a 50% appointment on our faculty - he is quite successful, but far from a Nobel winner. I don't think it's trivial to negotiate, and you need two universities that really want to have you on your faculty list and are willing to go through some organizatorial headache to make it happen, but if you are a full professor in good standing and with a strong reputation it's not outlandish either.
    – xLeitix
    Nov 15, 2022 at 10:07
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Full time in separate countries? Seems unlikely but not impossible (see Wolfgang's answer). I do regularly see people with joint appointments, usually at a research focused location and another at a university. Where the second is there to do teaching and possibly comply with regulations for having students. But this is usually in the same country and same city (or at least having the locations near each other).

The other option is taking a sabbatical. Where you may still be paid by your normal university, but get to go spend a year doing other stuff, possibly at other universities. You could then structure that to spend 6 months in Europe and 6 in another country. But this would only be a temporary arrangement.

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