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I'm currently halfway through a PhD in computer science at a good school in the US. After I graduate, I want to stay in academia. I also want to return home to Australia to be closer to my family.

However, I worry that I will struggle to do good research when I am thousands of miles from where the action is happening. It's hard to collaborate when you can't meet in person and are in a vastly different time zone. It's also hard to keep up with recent developments from afar. I find that collaboration and keeping up with developments are essential to doing good research. Computer science is a rapidly-moving field, so being behind can make your results much less interesting.

How do academics in Australia, New Zealand, and other "remote" places deal with this?

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    Australia and New Zealand are not 'remote' in many fields of research (certainly not in mine). – user41783 Nov 27 '15 at 19:37
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    I suppose it could be helpful to plan to attend several conferences per year. Perhaps you could schedule some collaboration visits with colleagues for the week before and/or the week after a conference. – aparente001 Nov 27 '15 at 20:18
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    @aparente001 funding for conferences (let alone surrounding stays) could be problematic to procure... – vonbrand Nov 28 '15 at 0:04
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    @vonbrand - Then an Australian or New Zealander's cost of living budget will have to account for this. Knowledge is power -- in this case, the power to make effective salary negotiations and realistic personal financial decisions. – aparente001 Nov 28 '15 at 13:46
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    OP, are you suggesting that academia only exists in the USA?! Australia is not "remote" other than by comparison with other places in the world.. and it has its own research industry just like every other first world nation (and most of the others). – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 28 '15 at 19:00
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I have several Australian colleagues, and the challenges are, in fact, real. The key challenges I have heard them speak of are:

  • Time zones isolate Australia/New Zealand from the United States and Europe, though not from India and Asia.
  • Travel is very long and costly. Most particularly, it is often difficult to get people from elsewhere to attend conferences in Australia/New Zealand.

The strategies that I have seen employed are:

  • Some universities in Australia and New Zealand apparently provide significant amounts of travel funds to make it easier for their scholars to travel and to bring others for sabbaticals to Australia.
  • Increased emphasis on collaboration with Asian colleagues. My anecdotal information seems to point particularly toward India, where there are fewer language, cultural, and legal barriers, particularly for computer science.
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    Having worked on collaboration with participants in Europe, the Americas and Japan, I can report that tele-precense gets really tough when at least one party should be asleep during any hour you choose for a meeting. – dmckee Nov 28 '15 at 5:38
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    Just for the record, I'd like to note that I am somewhat distressed that my answer is currently outscoring both of the answers from Australians. – jakebeal Nov 28 '15 at 20:21
  • @jakebeal Chris White's lecture has destroyed mine - even though that is exactly my experience. – user41783 Nov 28 '15 at 20:50
  • Fewer languages in India?! There are 22 official languages. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India – Nemo Nov 28 '15 at 21:44
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    @Nemo Not fewer languages, fewer language barriers: English is spoken much more widely in India than in China. – jakebeal Nov 28 '15 at 21:54
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The following has been exactly my experience

As an academic in Australia, I can tell you that I don't 'deal with this', primarily due to their not being an issue to deal with in this regard. I know this because I am a lead researcher in an international research group and am based in Australia.

Collaboration realistically has no barriers with the use of the connectivity of the Internet - at the very least: Skype, email, social media can be used for meetings, discussions ad collaborations. Effectively, this eliminates the 'remoteness' of anywhere. The 'action' in research is happening in many places around the world, including Australia - places like these are not some intellectual backwater.

Finally, if you don't want to fall behind in any field of research - step up and innovate! - for that, you can be anywhere (thus you won't be remote from the action, but rather, the centre of action).

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    This is a very cheerful post, and it no doubt gets upvotes from everyone who wants it to be true, but how does it answer the question? There are certainly fields (like mine, and more importantly the OP's) where no one in that part of the world is doing similar research. How does someone in country A convince someone in country B to actively collaborate, when the person in B can find a substitute collaborator in B with the same level of knowledge? The problem is that for people in B, finite resources really are best spent with the local collaborations, yielding more results per unit effort. – user4512 Nov 27 '15 at 23:20
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    The fact is, someone in A is at a net disadvantage. Why else would academics cluster in departments, or even have conferences? It seems extraordinarily unlikely, then, that the person in A's optimal strategy is to ignore that disadvantage. Given tighter constraints, a redistribution of their resources relative to what someone in B would do is almost certainly called for. The question then is what redistribution is needed. Avoid page-charging journals to be able to afford more travel? Host more international visitors, even if they aren't top-notch? Shift one's sleep cycle? – user4512 Nov 27 '15 at 23:26
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    @ChrisWhite It seems my experience is different to yours. – user41783 Nov 27 '15 at 23:41
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    I don't think OP is saying Australia is an "intellectual backwater." I know several good researchers there. However, I don't know anyone there who works in my field. So, in many fields, Australia is far from the action. As such, I don't think you have answered the question. – user44610 Nov 28 '15 at 0:19
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    I think a lead researcher in an international research group is in a very different position than someone just completing their PhD. The DECRA fellowships are impossible without some research group to develop within. – JenB Nov 29 '15 at 10:10
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An Australian academic here. Keeping up is no problem. What I find difficult is the ability to establish new and productive collaboration. In the US, you can attend many conferences, see probably the same people every time, and from there, you find new collaborators. In Australia, due to cost and distance, it's a lot harder! In Australia, there is simply not enough conferences and critical mass (people in the same area or $) to do anything useful -- this varies given the discipline/area. My advice: make sure your connection to your supervisor and his/her students is ironclad.

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I am an Australian academic who moved to UK for my postdoc(s) specifically to overcome the isolation problem. However, I do believe your research field is very relevant.

While there are other researchers in Australia in the same field as me, there are no research groups. This makes it very hard to get funding, ongoing employment or supervision, making it much harder to develop as a researcher. Instead, working overseas with a research group means I get to work with others who know what I am talking about and interested in what I am doing.

The second problem is meeting people. Each conference takes much more funding to get to. While in the UK, I am able to attend multiple conferences per year. My research group also attracts visitors, and I have made excellent connections with world leaders because they have visited for a few days. That network would not have been possible from Australia.

On the other hand, if there is a relevant research group for you in Australia, then I expect both of these problems could be overcome. That group would provide both colleagues and network. Also, research groups often have more funding than individual academics to attend conferences.

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