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Here at my university, we have 12-13 week-long summer break for the students excluding summer-school. It is almost as long as a semester. I guess this is roughly the case for other institutions. In fact I often observe that some grad students use this break to work in another research group usually in another country (European countries mostly, USA rarely). Even some others spend entire two-semeter academic term in another university.

My question is as follows: What would be the pros and cons for using summer-time to work in another research group away from your supervisor and/or your research topic? I guess the situation would be different for a masters and a PhD student (I am currently interested in the situation for a masters student, but general ideas covering the situation would be OK).

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    For a PhD student? If you have 12-week long summer breaks as PhD student, something is seriously amiss
    – F'x
    Oct 18 '12 at 14:46
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  • According to our academic calendar, the time period between end of spring and the beginning of fall is 12-week long (ignoring summer-school). However, I am not sure about the case for PhD students. I think they may have to spend some time at the university during the summer, but it is up to the supervisor.
    – mert
    Oct 18 '12 at 17:47
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    @mert: Rephrasing what F'x said, PhD students are normally hired as year-round workers in their research groups, and don't normally get summer breaks. The only way they'd get the summer off is if they negotiated it with their supervisors in advance, and normally that doesn't happen.
    – aeismail
    Oct 18 '12 at 20:51
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    Let me rephrase what F'x said: F'x's PhD students don't have a 12-week-long summer. My PhD students, on the other hand, like most others in my field, regularly take months-long summer internships with my blessing, if not insistence. Your mileage may vary.
    – JeffE
    Oct 18 '12 at 22:11
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Here are the obvious things:

  • Pro: the work in another group will build contacts, possibly improving your opportunities for future academic positions (PhD, postdoc, assistant professor position).
  • Pro: funding opportunities, if you're in need of extra money.
  • Con: the work done in another group will take up time and energy, and if not related to your current work, won't advance your research (experimenting, publishing, etc.). That should probably be your priority (this is related to the comment on the question about it being strange to get 12-week breaks...)
  • Con: if you don't coordinate it with your supervisor, this could affect the trust in the relationship (depending on the style of the supervisor).

If you wish to pursue an academic career, in some universities respectable journal articles published are worth more than contacts when competing for a job. So don't overestimate the first "pro" I mention above. At the master's level, this is less important.

The best strategy is to coordinate the "outside" work with your supervisor for maximum benefit.

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NOTE: The answer below assumes you have approval from your university and/or employer!

If your university is closed for 12 weeks, I would argue it's almost entirely positive to go somewhere else and work, because:

  • If you work more, you get more results. Sounds obvious, but it's the scientific output that counts. You can't afford lingering around for 12 weeks if you want to get a scientific career. The work you do elsewhere might or might not help you directly towards your PhD, but if it results in publications, it certainly will enhance your academic career, even if the publications are unrelated to your PhD work.
  • You will enhance your international experience, which will enhance your chances of finding positions later on.
  • You will improve your academic contacts, which also enhances your chances.
  • If you acquire your own funding, you will gain experience in finding sources of money, which should also be greatly beneficial for your career.

All in all, I can't think of any reason not to do it, if the alternative is idling.

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    -1 the OP clearly said "another research group away from your supervisor and/or research topic" -- there's clearly some negative risk there IMO. Oct 18 '12 at 15:51
  • "away from supervisor and/or research topic", means it could be away from the supervisor while still beneficial for the own research. If the alternative is being idle, I don't see a negative risk. But I'll amend my answer a bit.
    – gerrit
    Oct 18 '12 at 16:11
  • I actually don't have the rep to do a down vote :-) Oct 18 '12 at 16:31
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If you are currently "employed full-time" by a research group (you are a student, or a scientific worker, whose funding is from a given research group), then any extended outside work for another research group needs to be discussed and approved by your current advisor in advance. Failure to do so, as Fuhrmanator suggests, will lead to major conflicts, as you are potentially committing a major breach of etiquette, and possibly violating your departmental regulations or your work contract if you don't secure the permissions in advance.

But that said, the best use of spending time in another research group is to develop new skills and techniques that you couldn't learn (or at least couldn't learn as well) by staying in your "home" group. In such cases, I suspect most advisors would support such a move, so long as it doesn't conflict with your current progress timeline and any requirements of your department (or your funding).

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