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07/16/2021

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Alex Bryant

Not the above poster, but very interested to hear more about this. Seems common enough and (as with Marcus' comment above) it seems to be a valuable thing to do.

traveller

This is quite common (or not rare). Some people I know have had stellar careers, which benefited from such visits. It is more common among the elite schools. In Canada, PhDs are often encouraged to do it. It is intended to "internationalize" you, make you less provincial.
I would not expect to be welcomed at a very selective school as a visitor, if you are from a rather lack-lustre place. And it is bets that you have a rationale for going ... you are working on so-and-sos stuff and the chance to talk with her and attend her seminar would be great, etc.
If you are an international student in the USA, be sure to check that it does not compromise your visa conditions. You do not want to be deported.

Nick Z

When I needed to do this about 10 years ago when my now-spouse took a job in another city, my dissertation advisor reached out to a colleague at another institution and started the process. (So maybe the OP should discuss this with their advisor.) The institution I visited at for a year generously provided an office and library access, allowed me to sit-in on seminars, and invited me to colloquia and after-talk dinners with guest speakers. It was a fantastic experience.

Postdoc

I did this twice and had a great experience. It was very easy for me to set up the visit itself: I just asked my advisor to reach out to the relevant people, and they responded positively.

More challenging was securing funding. I got a scholarship to pay for a year of travel, but someone else from my program lost out on the scholarship and therefore wasn't able to travel.

Visas can be easy or challenging depending on the country. Some countries don't want to give visiting PhD students anything except a student visa, which is problematic because that costs a lot of money and often requires you to be paying tuition. Others (Australia) are really great, but only if you want to stay a short-ish time (I think it's 3 months?).

This experience might be atypical, since I was coming from a highly-ranked department, but I suspect that many universities are happy to have you if you can pay your own way.

One way that some people I know have funded a visit is to double-up on teaching in one semester, then use the money they've saved up to spend the next semester visiting another department. This can have negative or positive tax implications, depending on how you do it.

In my experience, most people really like having visitors around as long as you're sociable and have interesting things to say. It's nice to see new faces!

Grad student who has visited schools

From my understanding, the process can be quite different at different schools. But the first step is to email a potential sponsor and inquire about visiting. It’s safest to do this 9-months to a year before you want to visit, but you can also do so in the previous semester.

The sponsor will tell you the process, which can be more or less informal depending on the school. For example, some schools require that you go through an application process, hence partly why it’s important to inquire early. Other schools are less formal, and you just need the sponsor’s approval (and for them to not be on leave). You may end up as an official visitor (which often requires paying some fees but allows you to have a student ID card) or an unofficial one (no fees but may be harder to get a student ID). Being an official visitor matters more at some schools than others, and typically the process of becoming a visiting student will be sensitive to that. (Note: if you do have to pay fees, you can try to ask your dept to cover them.)

In short, the process is not very difficult. The main step is identifying and reaching out to a potential sponsor, and then applying if needed.

Of course, you also need to figure out how to identify potential sponsors/school. I would ask your advisor and other potential mentors for advice. It can also be nice to be in an area with at least a few schools around that have people you’d like to talk to/events you’d like to go to, so that you can really maximize.

As far as thinking ahead about potential sponsors, if you organize any talk series or reading groups, you might consider inviting people who you might want as sponsors down the line. (It’s particularly easy to invite people to things while things are still at least partly on Zoom, which may be true for the Fall.) But this advice may be more useful for people in earlier years.

Last thing: you *can* visit 2 schools in one semester and break it up into ~half semester each. This has pros and cons, but I know several people who did this and it worked out well for them. It really depends on your goals, the people you want to talk to, how many semesters you have that you can spend on visiting, and financial constraints/cost of living in new area vs. home area.

Mike Titelbaum

Just wanted to emphasize something mentioned in passing above: At most institutions, it is *much* easier to visit (as a student or faculty member!) if you have secured your own funding and will not be asking anything financial from them. So you should be thinking about your funding source (for travel, housing, other costs of living) alongside thinking about where you'd like to visit.

Ryan

In some cases doing this is especially easy, as there's already infrastructure in place, e.g. the Ivy Plus exchange scholar program (Ivy grad schools + Stanford, Chicago, MIT, Berkeley), for which there's a single form to have signed by parties at both the host and visiting institution.

J

I did this, and it was definitely beneficial to my career. I was invited as a visiting scholar by a senior faculty member in the department. They provided an office and held regular meetings with me. I had the privileges of a grad student. This was all possible because I had funding from my home department (it being my fourth year in the PhD program and first year ABD).

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