I started my PhD two years ago in the UK. Now, because of the funding assigned to my project, I will be moving to Singapore for two more years. Also, instead of being placed in a University, I will continue my work in a research agency. I am concerned about the fact of being so far away from my advisors. We will hold Skype meetings regularly (I really hope so), but still it feels like all those deep discussions we have in person will not be the same (or as productive). So, my main questions are:

  • What are the best practices in terms of communication with the advisors when a PhD student is researching in a different institution than his/her advisors'?
  • What differences should a researcher expect when moving from a University to a research agency (company) in terms of daily work and office atmosphere?

I will also have an advisor in the research agency, but he has not been very interested in the project so far.

EDIT: By research agency I mean a nationally funded research institute.


  • In terms of communication between you and your University, you'll need to take time difference into account. If you're a morning person, then you may need to adjust your schedule, because any meetings with your University will be during the later afternoon or early evening. If you're an evening person, then you won't have this problem.
    – user2768
    Jun 13 '17 at 12:24
  • I suspect that your communication between current supervisors will reduce, simply because you'll be far away. This needn't be a problem, because you can seek new advisors at the research agency. You might like to make sure new advisors are in place before moving.
    – user2768
    Jun 13 '17 at 12:25
  • Could you clarify what a research agency is?
    – user2768
    Jun 13 '17 at 12:25
  • I have edited the question to address this now.
    – b-fg
    Jun 13 '17 at 13:14
  • your definition doesn't really help me. Is a "research agency" a "nationally funded research institute" somewhat similar to a "university without teaching"? Or do you mean a research department of a company? Or ...?
    – user2768
    Jun 13 '17 at 13:38

First of all, I would like to wish you very good luck with the change. I experienced a similar situation in the past and it is a sensible one. Namely, I have spent 2 years at a nationally funded research institute in Spain to move afterwards to complete my PhD at a Public Ivy university at the US, keeping my EU advisor as PhD co-supervisor.

Second, I would like to state that my answers just reflect my personal opinion based on my experience (I do not think there are mathematically true answers to your question), although I hope that they are useful to you or any other person in the same situation.

What are the best practices in terms of communication with the advisors when a PhD student is researching in a different institution than his/her advisors'?

This is really important and handling it well from the beginning can lead to success. This change will require a more diligent attitude from everyone. Some things to take into account:

  1. Set a fixed time slot for the meetings with your advisors. I would advise not to let meetings to be scheduled ad-hoc. I would rather fix a time weekly/biweekly/monthly with your advisors that complies with the agendas/time zones of everyone and try as much as possible to stick to it.
  2. Document and minute your meetings, and send the minutes to everyone involved. In the case that someone can not attend one meeting, the person can catch up fast and will have the feeling of being connected.
  3. Keep your advisors motivated (before and after your departure) Typically academic professors/researchers are busy and somehow you have to pick their curiosity and motivate them gets you more of their "CPU-cycles". Make sure they feel part of the project, keep them in the loop, send update emails regularly, etc. Hopefully you know them enough by know to be able to keep them up.
  4. Strength the ties between your UK and Singapure advisors. Try to be friendly and always speak well of the other co-advisors -- we all get bothered at some point by our advisors, however try not to cross-complain and try to create a strong relationship between your advisors.

What differences should a researcher expect when moving from a University to a research agency (company) in terms of daily work and office atmosphere?

Your questions are very pertinent, and this issue is the one I struggled more with.

When moving to a new institution in a different continent you can expect and be ready to big differences in general, some of them in terms of:

  • Work ethics and traditions: The amount of hours invested at the lab, the traditions towards if it is normal working on weekends... In my case this factors did not vary a lot.
  • Relationship habits with other students/ superiors / advisors: When I arrived to the US, I was used to have a very close relationship with my colleagues, which I found not to hold. Also, the way to address superiors in Spain was way more informal.
  • Level of independence at work
  • Bureaucracy and requirements towards the completion of your PhD
  • Style of research/teaching
  • Expectations from advisors

and really, many others that hopefully you will discover and adapt quickly to.

Honestly, the only advice I would give is, keep your mind open, accept the changes and do not get stuck or try to hold to what you have seen in the UK. "When in Rome do as the Romans"

I really wish you best of luck in your adventure.

  • Thanks you very much for your answer and kind words. I think a very important point you raised is to keep the supervisors motivated, on both sides. This is probably the only way meetings will be hold regularly and they will be sufficiently engaged on the project to provide active inputs.
    – b-fg
    Jun 14 '17 at 9:36
  • On the other question I made, it s probably depending on the particular institutions (as someone commented) but I also think is important be open-minded and adapt to any situation.
    – b-fg
    Jun 14 '17 at 9:38
  • Yes, since it is hard to know what you'll find unless you know someone there, better to expect to find drastic changes, in other words, most likely you will be pulled out of your comfort zone. Jun 14 '17 at 14:59

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