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Jacob Joseph Andrews

I finished remotely but was in a similar position to recent PhD. I had switched from TA to RA for one semester in January of 2020, and then was on a fellowship my next and final year. And it was 2020 so none of us really knew what was going on anyway. So that was luck more than anything.

But I do have one small piece of advice: if your department has a graduate program director or someone similar, talk to them about the situation. Our director was able to help me think through funding options and encouraged me to apply to several fellowships I had originally thought I couldn't possibly win—including the one I eventually did.

international student

If the OP is an international student on a study visa, it's safe to check the regulations first. Depending on how the regulations define the full-time student status, working remotely might not be feasible.


I have spent the last three years of my program remotely but it has been a combination of COVID + luck + creativity + hard work + the help of kind administrators. After the COVID year I was on an internal research fellowship, and also had a baby. After some back-and-forth my program was willing to switch me from a TA to RA for the year after the baby.

Some people in my program have been able to finish remotely by "doubling up," doing all of their TA requirements in one semester (often supercommuting) so that the next semester is left free. It seems exhausting to me, but depending on how you work (and/or your family situation) it might make sense. Jacob's advice above about seeking out fellowships is very good.

don't do it

I think it is a terrible mistake to continue remotely. Unless you are genuinely at another (higher ranked) institution, then you will not be looked at as a very serious student - your home institution will be more inclined to support those present in the department, contributing to the good culture in the department, and if it gets out, while you are on the job market, people will think you will be equally disinterested in being their colleague.


I should also add that there are serious downsides to finishing remotely. Even if your library resource access is not tricky, you are giving up the nontrivial good of strengthening your network when you physically leave your department. You will miss out on departmental life, including easy opportunities for collaboration and service. Your LOR writers may not be willing to speak to your collegiality if they never see you around.

These things can be overcome, but it means making extra effort to interact with people to keep your network alive. In my own case, I know that the people who get jobs after finishing my program have gotten them because of *who* they know. I do wonder if doing my last 3 years remotely is affecting my career prospects.

I did it

I was remote the last few years of my program. I had online teaching (pandemic), then I had an external fellowship. I think it's very important to keep in frequent contact with people in the department and have solid relationships built with your letter writers before leaving. I'd guess it also helps if there's a precedent in your department of people dissertating remotely. I knew a handful of people who had done it, so I didn't feel I was going against any department norms. Some of these folks did end up having to pay tuition because in-person folks were prioritized for funding, so that's a risk you run.

Fwiw I don't think it was a disadvantage on the market for me. For the most part people didn't know I was remote unless I told them (it came up during flyouts) and I don't believe it was held against me (I got a job).

Trystan Goetze

I seem to recall that some PhD programs have a residency requirement for the duration of your studies, though I don't know how common this is. Another reason to check with your department's director of graduate studies (or equivalent).

Casey Woodling

I finished my PhD remotely. After four years in a program, my wife and I served in the Peace Corps for two years in Madagascar. Not being certain of where I'd be after two years overseas, I defended my dissertation proposal and completed other requirements prior to leaving so that I could be in a position to finish remotely when I got back. Finishing remotely amounted to basically writing the dissertation. The department and my supervisor were very supportive. I would recommend getting approval for all the moving parts before making the final jump. In my own case, I also worked outside of higher education when I was completing my dissertation. Juggling the research with a full-time job was challenging but also proved to be valuable to my current administrative role in higher ed. I will say that it took some time to get back into my dissertation after two years in Madagascar. People are in many different situations, but I still felt fairly connected to the department even if I was not there in person. This was 2010-2011.

current remote student

After a year in my current institution, I needed to go back to my home country for family reasons. It was either quitting my program or proceeding remotely and luckily, my department gave me approval. I can say that it was crucial that I had a year to know a lot of people in person and let them know me. I wouldn't choose to study remotely if I didn't have these special circumstances. If you study remotely, I highly recommend making occasional visits, to maintain your relationships and meet some new students. However, saying all this, if you put enough effort into it, you don't lose *too much* by studying remotely. The pandemic made things much friendlier.

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