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I am in a PhD program in a top US institution but my SO,family,friends are somewhere else. I am considering a thesis that would require minimal/no field or lab work. This would be a big compromise as I was hoping to do intensive field work but there is no funding for field work. I thought that a compromise would be that I can work on it remotely. I haven't mentioned yet to my advisor that I am home sick as we don't really connect on a personal level, but we have a good connection on a research level.

How do I approach my advisor saying that I would like to work remotely for 6 months out of the year? I have worked remotely before and it has always worked but I don't know how this type of setup is seen at a top tier US institution. How do I approach my advisor about this issue?

  • Both answers are equally satisfying and helpful, I wish I could pick both. – Herman Toothrot Jun 29 '14 at 12:34
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I would break this down into two parts. First, discuss your circumstances with your advisor and explain that you want to spend more time "at home", and ask how he feels about you working remotely. Go into the discussion with a concrete proposal for how the practicalities might work: how will you do your work? Do you have access to the resources you'll need? How will you stay in touch with your advisor/colleagues/the research community? Take on board any reservations your advisor might have; don't go into the discussion with too fixed an idea of what the "right" outcome is. Agree to review the arrangements once they've been tested for a while.

Once you have agreement in principle, then you can hash out the dates. I would try and start with relatively short stretches of remote working - a couple of weeks - to allow any teething problems/concerns (on either side) to be resolved. I suspect everyone will be happier if you can spend your six months away in short chunks, rather than in one big block. Also, recognise that your advisor may have reasons to want you present for certain occasions/portions of the year - involve him in your planning.

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I think you should aim for a shorter period at first, to show that it doesn't affect your productivity. My wife and I aim to both work remotely 25% of our time, to address the two-body problem. If each of us works remotely for two weeks every two months, that aim is fulfilled. A colleague of mine just returned from a 10-week remote work trip.

Six months, however, is very long to work remotely in one go. It is of course more expensive to work remotely in shorter segments, but if your advisor doesn't know yet whether it will work out, six months is too long. Explain that you are ultimately interested in working remotely up to half of the time. Propose to work remotely for 3-4 weeks first. Be available at any normal local time for your supervisor, even if that might mean inconvenient times on your end. After the remote work trip, return and evaluate how it went. Then propose to plan a longer remote-work trip, perhaps 10 weeks, and return again. If all goes well after a couple of 10-week blocks, you could bring up the idea for an extended six-month period.

The worst that can happen is that they say no, and you may have to find a different way. Perhaps they don't agree with 6 months in one block, but are fine with 3 2-month blocks spread over a year. It will cost more money, but it is safer in many ways too.

Good luck.

  • thanks, that sounds more reasonable, I think bringing up the 6 months right away it's too much. I think I should start by saying that I would like to extend my stay during the breaks. – Herman Toothrot May 29 '14 at 4:07

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