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I am an international PhD student of 2nd year (my PhD is supposed to be for 3 years). When I just came to this lab, my professor mentioned a possibility to go to an international conference or visit some other lab. Later when I asked him, he said that I don't have any result (I have done a lot of work but didn't get the result which he was expecting) and why then go to a conference. I explained that I would like to a) discuss my work with other people and possibly get some new ideas and b) I want to get a postdoc later and need to do some networking, if possible, at an international level. My professor responded that a conference is not necessary for getting a PhD degree, and as I don't socialize much in lab (I am rather shy), he doesn't understand how I can discuss with others at a conference (he thought it is a very funny joke).

In my PhD 1 year progress report presentation, one of the opponents said that it could be beneficial for me to go to another (specific) lab for a couple of weeks, but my professor ignored it and when I tried to remind him later, he changed the subject. This opponent is from another institute, unfamiliar to me and I can't just contact him and ask for assistance.

I am concerned because I am new in this domain and thus without going anywhere I am unlikely to meet people for possible collaboration in future.

All other students here (around 10) have already participated in 2-3 conferences minimum (and in some cases, research visit for several weeks), including two other students of my professor (but they both have a second supervisor, so my professor doesn't have as much control there as in my case). Many have found the funding through the lab, so I don't think that the lack of funding is the reason.

What should I do? How I can convince him that it is really important for me? Any idea is appreciated.

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    Are you prepared to cover your own conference fee and pay for the travel? – Dmitry Savostyanov Feb 14 '17 at 19:09
  • Are there conferences in your region? A local conference can, at times, be more effective for networking than an international conference as you may follow up with your fellow attendees more easily. – Harry Feb 14 '17 at 19:13
  • For all other students their professors helped to find funding. My professor helped to his other two students. Even if he would say that he can't do anything for me, I can always try through the lab plus some conferences provide grants for students. I think there is a possibility for me to get something. I am just unable to even start trying to search for options, because my professor doesn't see any sense in me going to any conference. – user69377 Feb 14 '17 at 19:33
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    This is beginning to look like a red flag. If your advisor is convinced that you don't even have enough material after 2 years of PhD work to present even a basic overview of your research then they may have other expectations of you. They will need to make this clear. – Harry Feb 14 '17 at 20:48
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    I can't just contact him and ask for assistance — [citation needed] – JeffE Feb 14 '17 at 23:46
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Tight question and hard to answer without knowing the details. It may be that your advisor is right in that your results are not good enough to publish and that other colleagues you ask are just polite and it may be that your advisor is wrong…

From the perspective of your supervisor it looks like this: Sending you to a conference will cost money from his budget or grants and it can contribute to his reputation if good results are presented from his work group and it could harm is reputation if bad/shaky/unfinished work is presented. On top of that, your advisor has genuine interest to promote his students appropriately. However, many supervisors do not send students to conferences without own contributions - maybe a rationale behind this is that you have to earn this privilege.

Let me comment a bit on the things you wrote. You say your arguments have been

a) discuss my work with other people and possibly get some new ideas and b) I want to get a postdoc later and need to do some networking, if possible, at an international level.

I can relate a little bit to the response of your supervisor. Conferences are great for sharing ideas and for networking but it actually easy to go to a conference and fail in both respects. Often there are tons of people, many knowing each other, other actively networking and for somebody new (especially if a bit shy) it is not straightforward to get involved. In fact, it is harder to network at conferences that to share ideas within your workgroup. Also, a talk at a conference is a great way to start networking and without a contribution, networking gets even harder.

You got the advice to try more local conferences in a comment and responded

There were some local conferences, but only the people from our (small) community presented. I mean that if you go and see only your colleagues' talks, it will not really help you in networking...

In view of the above, this sounds like a strange response. You say you don't think networking on the local level is beneficial but only international networking is helpful? That doesn't make sense. Start small, practice networking with locals and then go for more. Also "local" does not necessarily mean you workgroup or university, but could mean "within your region or country". Actually, networking within the own region and community is very important (and a bit different than international networking).

In conclusion, the conflict between you and your supervisor seems to be, that he thinks that your contributions are not good enough for the conferences you proposed and you disagree on this.

So here is a suggestion: You should get qualified external feedback on your work, probably even anonymous:

  • Submission to a journal. Does not seem like a good idea. The feedback will take a long time, higher chances of rejection (even with mildly positive feedback). On the positive side, the feedback can be quite detailed.
  • Submission to a mid prestige conference with peer review. On the positive side, there is a fixed time frame for the feedback. Depending on your field, the feedback may be very brief.
  • Find a double blind refereed venue (so a bad feedback would not harm your supervisor reputation). Pro and cons for conferences and journals are the same as above.

Then there was this piece:

one of the opponents said that it could be beneficial for me to go to another (specific) lab for a couple of weeks

To go from here, contact that very person and if you can manage to get an invitation from that lab, your supervisor should be happy to let you go (if the person is not from this lab, you may ask him to introduce you to the people from that lab). Even more so, if the lab could even contribute to the costs of the visit.

  • Thank you for your response! Before starting PhD, I went to conferences pretty often. Even if I am shy, I can talk about research. What I expect from a conference, is to find potential postdoc supervisors. I don't want to stay in the lab where I am now, and there are some particular places where I would like to go. I think a conference would be a way to approach the professors from these places. Concerning the local conferences, I just was saying that local means in the city where I am, and there are only people from the same community whom I already know. – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 21:21
  • Yeah the idea about getting an external feedback is great in itself, but practically it is not possible to do. Any submission (journal or conference) requires getting a permission from the professor, which he will be not willing to give. What I can only do is to write a draft of my paper and ask some professors from my Master studies to read and comment (I am keeping in touch with a couple of them). But my Masters were in somewhat different domain, thus this review can be only general. – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 21:22
  • I need to mention that I didn't get the result which my professor was expecting, thus he doesn't want me to show it to people as it might put him in the position where he will be seen as suggesting a wrong hypothesis. Maybe this is the reason. But it is not my fault that he was hoping for something and I didn't get it. – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 21:23
  • Those who gave positive opinion about my work, were the official opponents in my 1st year progress report presentation. I don't think they would have praised me if I haven't worked enough. I told them (without referring explicitly to my advisor) that I'd like to share my results with others, and currently didn't get what was expected, so I can't go to a conference. They said that I did a big work and it would be sad if my result in the end of PhD would be negative. Then one guy advised to go to another lab as I was using a method from these people's paper. He doesn't know anyone there... – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 21:28
  • What I am starting to think, that my professor might not like me personally as I am a foreigner (my lab is small and all other people are local or from neighboring countries with the similar culture, thus almost local). Or maybe my professor is thinking that I will go home anyway and who cares. Also, maybe he is thinking that after I defend, there is already some lab in my native city which is already waiting for me to give me a job - which is not true... – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 21:31
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Are there any conferences with PhD Symposia in your field of expertiece? Usually you need to submit an abstract for those, which will be peer reviewed, but in general accepted. Having an accepted abstract at a PhD Symposium might convince your supervisor to let you go there. Additionally, presenting your current state of research there helps both for your current research and eventually for training your defence.

At least in my area it is very uncommon to go to a conferance without having a paper accepted for it, so I udnerstand that attitue of your supervisor. But some conferences provide travel and registration grants for students. That might also be way to convince your supervisor.

Other than that, I could only suggest writing a paper about what you think are your current results. Maybe upon seen the paper, your supervisor will realize that there is more to it than he thought, and let you submit it to a conference.

  • I think my professor would not like if I submit an abstract without asking him first... Concerning a paper, here in most cases students submit one (in journal) almost in the end of PhD, which seems to be quite logical as it is 3rd year of PhD, and before there might not be enough results (and for conferences it is basically an abstract). But I like the idea to start discussing my future journal paper with my professor, he really might see that I have a lot of things to present. Thank you! – user69377 Feb 15 '17 at 11:13
  • @user69377 "I think my professor would not like if I submit an abstract without asking him first..." Do ask him first of course! – T. Verron Feb 15 '17 at 11:14
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    For PhD Symposia you are usually sole author of your submission. But yes, its always better to discuss first! But before you appraoch him, actually search for a conference with a fitting PhD Symposium (maybe even write the abstract), and then ask your supervisor. – Lot Feb 15 '17 at 11:20

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