The agony and ecstasy of doing a joint PhD

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain my PhD programme to someone, I could retire a few years from now. If I had another dollar for every time I had to explain that no, I’m not visiting, I work here, I could retire tomorrow.   My PhD program can be summarized with a Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated.


Joint degrees are exactly what they sound like: a degree that you earn while dividing your time between two universities. This allows you to tackle a project that is more ambitious than you would otherwise be capable of doing. Joint degrees allow you to take advantage of expertise and/or resources that may not be available had you stayed at home. Then, when you’re finished, you earn a single degree bearing the seals of both universities.


Sounds pretty cool, right? It certainly has its perks, but it also comes with substantial opportunity costs. For now, though, we’ll take a look at the good stuff.


The Ecstasy:


  1. Travel! Adventure! The expertise you’re taking advantage of may be across town. Or it could be across the globe. If it’s the latter, get your passport ready! The world awaits. For me, I get to divide my time between Sydney, Australia, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Who needs vacation when you’ve got beaches and castles in your back yard?
  2. You get to see how more than one lab works. It’s not all about seeing the sights. Every lab group or cohort functions a little bit differently. This provides a huge learning opportunity for the joint student—exposure to different methods, different ways of thinking, and the importance placed on theories and approaches. When you go out into the world, no matter the sector, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the different ways of organizing a work force and approaching problems.
  3. Your professional network is twice as big. When you’re in graduate school, your cohort or lab group evolves into a solid professional network by the time you graduate. With a joint degree, you get two. This can be particularly advantageous if you find that one of your cohorts/labs is small or otherwise not very engaging with one another.
  4. You receive the benefits of graduating from two universities. This can vary among universities, and the strength of their alumni association, but any sort of benefits you may receive as a graduate of a university also come to you. Prestige, alumni associations, professional networking, the opportunities are yours for the taking.
  5. You can add “international experience” to your resume or CV. While this only applies to those who have an overseas partner university, it’s still an important point. More than that study abroad you might have done as an undergraduate, taking a couple of classes, doing a PhD abroad is more akin to the regular expat experience: finding a place to live. Opening a bank account. Adapting to the local culture. While it is definitely one of those “soft skills” for your resume, it is a valuable one.

Have you done one? Do you know someone who has? What was their experience? Did they see any benefit to it? 

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