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Visiting single mum PhD student....

(19 Posts)
ChineseWhispers Thu 30-Jun-16 12:44:04

Please bear with me, this is a long story....

I am an academic working in a London university, with a visiting position at a Chinese university. I regularly visit China as part of an active collaborative research programme. A couple of weeks ago, when I was last there, I discovered that one of my colleagues in China had arranged for a PhD student to start on our joint research project, but for various political reasons, was unable to be the primary PhD supervisor... so he put my name down. Now, I met her for the first time a couple of weeks ago and despite my reservations about taking on someone I knew nothing about, she is a very motivated and able student, with experience in some relevant areas of her PhD topic. In the end, she was someone that I wanted to work with. So, rather than rock the political boat, I agreed to supervise her.

Now, she is very keen on coming to the UK for an extended period of time - 12 months, possibly even 24 months, so that she can take advantage of being in close contact with me in the first part of her PhD (when supervision is most needed), and the laboratories. This will solve many of the problems associated with a long-distance supervisor. She will apply to the Chinese government for a scholarship for a 12 month visit, and I have enough independent research funds to support her stay here for 12 months.

Now, this is where it gets complicated. She is a single mum and wants to bring her 13 year old son with her (this is actually a contributing factor in me agreeing to take her on, despite the fait accompli on her recruitment. There are simply not enough women in science and she has overcome many hurdles to get to the position she is in now; grit, determination, hard work, the wish for a fresh start all go a long way).

And there lies the problem. I have absolutely no idea how to help her find a place to live, a school for her son, childcare, somewhere which is cheap enough for a PhD student on a relatively small wage (I think I have about £16k per year, tax free, that I can give her) etc..... Where do I even start? I don't live anywhere near London, otherwise I would suggest that she moves close to me as I can introduce her to lots of families with kids a similar age (I have two children) and have a good idea about the schools, but it's easily £5k per year in commuting plus rent/living. Is £16k enough (she won't be eligible for benefits)? Should she even be contemplating such a huge change, with a son of 13? Would a house-share with another single parent be appropriate, and if so, what will that cost?

So many questions....

newname12 Thu 30-Jun-16 13:52:53

If the son is 13 and has some level of english he should be reasonably independent, especially in london.

You/she could talk to the International students dept at your uni. Most uni's have one, to support foreign students studying here. Some uni's have halls/accomodation suitable for families.

Do you know even if she has independent means?

ChineseWhispers Thu 30-Jun-16 18:24:27

He has reasonable English (and she is fluent). I think improving his English is one of the reasons his mum wants to come!

I don't think she has independent means. I checked with our international team and she will need about £20k to get a visa, which I can probably find. The university doesn't have much accommodation for PhD students (especially if they are only visiting!), so it will have to be private rented. We don't have the space that a rural campus university has. Even if we could provide some sort of accommodation, in all honesty I wouldn't want to bring up a kid there!

esornep Thu 30-Jun-16 18:28:05

The most basic question is whether her income is sufficient for visas, if she is bringing a dependent, and whether your university can support dependent visas for PhD students. Ask your HR department about this first before trying to solve the other questions. (The answers to both questions would very likely be no, given visa restrictions and quotas.)

esornep Thu 30-Jun-16 18:28:38

(Sorry, cross posted about visas.)

ChineseWhispers Thu 30-Jun-16 20:15:15

Visa should he no problem - she'll be able to apply for a Tier 4 general visa, which allows dependents if she has enough money. She'll need about £20k to satisfy the UKVI that she has enough money to come. But I have no clue if £20k is actually enough or just some number plucked out of the air by some civil servant!

titchy Thu 30-Jun-16 21:09:40

Honestly - I think she'd struggle in London on that. As a single person she could flat share like any other student, but she'd need two rooms to rent if her ds comes too and two lots of food to buy.

Rent will be £600 a month at least, bills another £100, food £200, travel £200. That doesn't leave much left over.

I don't do overseas student admin but presume tier 4 is no recourse to public funds - so she'd need health care for both of them too. And a school place....

cdtaylornats Fri 01-Jul-16 11:38:55

Perhaps contact the Chinese Embassy. They may have ways to support her.

esornep Fri 01-Jul-16 12:24:16

The immigration health surcharge on tier 4 visas allows them to access the NHS. This charge is £150 per year, on top of the £328 for the visa. (Per person.) Then since they are coming from China they need to provide tuberculosis test results to obtain the visas - these have to be carried out in specific places and cost several hundred pounds (per person). And she needs recent english tests.

(I have a lot of non-EU researchers in my group. Visa applications are tough and very expensive. The UK definitely does not make it easy.)

If she does come the other issues are probably not so hard to solve. I have had researchers in my group from China and they hook up very quickly with the Chinese communities in the UK (including online). Several had found houseshares with other researchers from China.

hotdiggedy Fri 01-Jul-16 18:09:17

She wont need a separate room for her son. They arent here for ever and I am sure she will be happy to compromise on space. I imagine she sees this as a once in a life time chance for herself and her son. Could she look for a room to rent in a family house. Maybe check gumtree/spare room?

fastdaytears Fri 01-Jul-16 18:12:16

hot do you mean she can share a room with her teenage son for 12 to 24 months?

I can literally think of nothing worse!

Somerville Fri 01-Jul-16 18:17:55

Depending where she lives in China she may already share a room with her son. And even if not, a sacrifice on living space to further her education and her son's opportunities (which will be massive for him... a year in London!) may well be a choice they're both very happy to make.

I wouldn't rule it out, on her behalf, because you think there isn't enough money. If she can get the visa she'll make the money go far enough, I bet you.

Cel982 Fri 01-Jul-16 18:28:06

Room-sharing with your kids is common in lots of Asian cultures. It's unlikely to be a deal-breaker for her.

And unless her son has special needs she shouldn't really need childcare, I would think.

Houseconfusion Fri 01-Jul-16 18:32:16

Your job as a phd supervisor does not include any duties to help her find accommodation etc. is there no phd supervisors handbook or advice you can access at your university? I would seek advice. I supervise. PhDs and while pastoral care is part of the job it's more about connecting students to appropriate university support services rather than resolve the students problems yourself. It's a clear boundary you need to maintain

hotdiggedy Fri 01-Jul-16 18:40:15

I think its quite a luxury across the world to have separate rooms for children and parents. It wouldnt bother me at all actually.

Houseconfusion Fri 01-Jul-16 19:38:20

Yes and and as an Asian - nope we don't have the concept of each person has their own room. Each couple yes, but not each person.

Bitlost Sat 02-Jul-16 11:20:54

William Goodenough in Bloomsbury used to offer accommodation to PhD students with families in my time. I think it was an intercollegiate hall - didn't matter which university you went to. Worth a try?

Autumnsky Mon 04-Jul-16 13:33:10

OP, I think you don't need to think that much. If she get the scholarship from the goverment and the visa is granted. She will manage it herself. Generally, Chinese people plan their money well.She has a 13yrs old son, she would be even more well prepared if she has decided to bring him with her. And Chinese family normally support each other, she may have money from her own parents, her other relatives etc.

It would be enough if you let her know that the general accomodation and living expenses in London, and tell her she won't have time to do part-time work(if this is the case). She will work out the rest.

ChineseWhispers Mon 04-Jul-16 20:08:16

Hi guys

Sorry for the silence - I was busy painting the house over the weekend (no, no cheeky Bordeaux was drunk, no not at all....), and work has been hectic!

esornop - I didn't realise TB was needed! I was aware of the NHS surcharge, and visa costs though. I guess this isn't something to worry about too much, as these will be a relatively small cost compared to living in London. Over the last few years, I have taken on 7 PhD students with CSC funding, so I know a little too much about the Chinese mafia :-) However, they are all early twenty-somethings without a care in the world, and I wonder how much help they will be to a late 30s single mum.

Hotdiggedy / fastdaytears et al. - currently, she owns her own flat in a large city in China (3 bedroom) and doesn't share with her son. I suspect that she won't want to, to be honest, but if that is what it comes to maybe she will.

Houseconfusion - good point about my role as a PhD supervisor. You are right, that I really am only there to supervise her PhD, however I have found that our support services are not that great and would probably not understand the needs of an immigrant single mum PhD student :-) I wanted to make sure that she knows exactly what she was getting into, and just how much it would cost, whether it is actually possible etc. Also, I will need to put in some work to help gain some of the funding, and I like to understand a situation before I commit to the time it takes to write applications (my success rates are higher than average because of this).

Bitlost - Goodenough is a fantastic idea, thanks. I'll point her in that direction when she is costing up.

Autumnsky - one thing that she doesn't know about is the schooling in this country. I think it's a lot different in China - those kids that are bullied are the ones at the back of the class, goofing off; here, it's the other way around.

Thanks all for the discussion! She is coming to Switzerland in a few weeks for a research trip, so I'll chat to her then about the various issues involved with such a large move.

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