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Collaborating with Professors at Different Universities?


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Hi there,


Looking for some advice...I will be starting at PhD in Psychology this fall. During the application process, I was fortunate enough to be admitted to a number of programs. When I wrote to professors to inform them that I would not be attending their university for graduate school, a few replied saying that they were interested in collaborating at some point anyway and to reach out if I had an idea I would like to investigate with them. I would really like to pursue these collaborations, both because of my interest in these professors' research and because of my desire to expand my professional horizons.


What is the etiquette for doing this? I obviously do not want to create an awkward situation with my graduate institution and my advisors there. For what it's worth, though, I will be coming into grad school on an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, so at least in theory I am not "tied" to a specific professor's grant or to a specific project. I am also returning to my undergraduate institution for grad school, so I feel that fostering collaborations at other universities would be to my advantage and potentially something that my advisors would understand. 


What are your thoughts? Has anyone had similar experiences? I was thinking reaching out to the professors elsewhere this summer, before I start my program, might be a good way to go.


Thanks in advance!

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Great question. I had two professors I contacted during the application invite me to keep in touch - nothing so much as future collaboration on projects, but with that said, I would like to know what protocol is for working with professors from other universities somehow. I don't know if this would be offensive to the people I work with at the institution where I'm pursuing my doctoral studies. So, basically, Is this an accepted practice or not?

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This depends on field and your department culture. I asked the same of the grad students at my current school before I got here. What I think is a good idea is to first figure out a research idea so that you have something solid to talk about instead of just a "hypothetical project". I would recommend involving someone at your current school (i.e. a collaboration between you, a prof at your school and an outside prof) because:


1) your current school is spending resources on you (even if you are funded by NSF, you are still taking up a spot in their classes, a desk in their building etc.) and thus would reasonably expect you to devote your full time equivalent work to projects that benefit your school/department


2) your school may have rules about what counts towards your dissertation--ideally you would want everything you do in grad school count towards your PhD so it's not a good idea for you or anyone if your side projects do not help you reach graduation milestones


Many graduate students definitely use conferences and other network opportunities to develop potential contacts for future collaborations. Either way, you should keep all these ideas in mind and when a logical collaboration comes up (i.e. your work with your current advisor starts to cross into one of your contacts' work and you feel that a collaboration might be beneficial) then you should propose it to your advisor and if they approve, reach out to your potential outside collaborator. That's how it might work in my field anyways. 

Edited by TakeruK
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