There is a proverb going around for a long time

Doing a PhD from an Asian country is a career suicide.

  • What is the significance of this proverb in case of Computer Science?

  • Does this also include high ranking universities in Russia and the middle East?

  • Does international ranking have any positive effect in this regard (e.g. there are some universities from China and Singapore among the top 20)?


  1. What are some down sides of doing PhD in a Japanese/ Korean/ Chinese university than that of the USA?
  2. Are there any professors with PhDs in Humanities from Asian Universities working outside of Asia?
  3. Why is a PhD from a university outside of the white sphere called ‘career annihilation’?
  • 12
    Of course not. Put it to the extreme, do you think doing a PhD at Tsinghua under Andrew Yao would be anywhere close to career suicide?
    – xuq01
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 7:03
  • 1
    People who make the kind of blanket statements you quote aren't concerned with such details.
    – user9646
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 13:49
  • 3
    I learned that Moscow is west of the Urals, and therefore in Europe.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 13:58
  • 6
    As someone who did his PhD in Computer Science, am I the only one to never have heard of this so-called proverb? This isn't a throwaway comment, I just want to highlight that it seems far from a universal opinion. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 14:11
  • 1
    @SSimon, HK, Korea, China, Singapore,...all of them pay good PhD scholarships/studentships/funding. Sg is asean.
    – user84565
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 5:19

4 Answers 4


Yes and no.

Jeff Huang and his student at Brown University compiled data from over 2,200 computer science professors in the United States. The data is only from the top 50 CS graduate programs. A writeup is available here, and the raw data is available here.

If you believe the data, then out of over 2,200 computer science professors at the top 50 programs, many got their Bachelor's degree from Asian universities, but only a few got their PhDs there:

  • 8 from China
  • 17 from India
  • 1 from Singapore
  • 47 from Israel
  • 11 from Russia

In fact among all universities with at least 10 graduates who went on to become CS professors in the US, only one, the Hebrew University in Israel, is not in the US. In other words CS professors in the US, at least in top programs, are overwhelmingly likely to have gotten their PhDs from a US university.

That's the yes part. Now for the no part: this data is only in the US, and it's natural to expect that the data for any country is biased in favour of students who did their PhDs in the country (for example, there are only 16 CS professors in the US with a doctorate from France). The students awarded PhDs by these Asian universities can't have just disappeared; they must've gotten jobs elsewhere. In all likelihood, they were successful, just not in the sense of becoming a professor in the US.

So what is career suicide to you? If your aim is to become a CS professor in the US, then you should get a PhD from a US university, preferably MIT, followed by UC Berkeley, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in that order. If you don't mind working elsewhere or perhaps taking on a different job, then there's nothing wrong with studying elsewhere also.

  • 3
    These statistics are influenced by significant self-selection. If my department is indicative, only a tiny minority of applicants for American CS tenure-track faculty positions got their PhDs outside the US, and most of those do postdocs in the US before applying. But those applicants seem to be successful at roughly the same rate as applicants with US PhDs.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:02

Well, your question is broad, but to be on point, Asia needs PhDs, if you have the competent advisor and the relationship is not "master and servant", then you have high prospects to become a good independent scholar. Competition for the job is lower than in West. About ranking, I really can't comment if it is beneficial in future employment, I think what is important is the ranking and the impact factor of the journals where you publish.

That being said, there are departments in obscure places in Iran, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan that have higher H index than well know and regarded departments in West.

Also as far as I noticed, gender relationship and position of women in STEM is much better than in West.

  • Is it personal experience or ... ?
    – Greg
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 16:48
  • 1
    Departments don't have h-indices.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:06
  • @Greg Yes. It is.
    – SSimon
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 14:01
  • 1
    @Jeffe cumulative H indexes as shown on RG and GS.
    – SSimon
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 14:02

There are known metrics to evaluate students' PhD performance regardless of where they studied for their PhD. One of such is the quality of their publications, where they publish their work and the level of impact in their research domain. Another is the supervisor and his/her reputation. So whether obtaining the PhD is from Asia or the West is not a strong yardstick.


tl;dr - Because of an expected cultural mismatch between East x West work practice.

Disclaimer: I am from a Western culture background, but I have worked in China for 2 years.

As mentioned by @SSimon the question is too broad, but I will drop my two cents. In principle I do not agree with the premise of career suicide in the broad sense, but I do see how graduating from some faraway, poorly-understood university may damage one's career.

I take the question from the standpoint of someone earning a PhD in the East seeking a job in the West. Originally the OP used the term "East" instead of Asia, which was culturally more appropriate, here. There is a large cultural gap between the "East" and "West" directly affecting on how professionals interact. Apart from a number of stigmas associated with distant cultures, one would expect frequent misunderstandings central to teaching practices (as per Academic jobs) and work relationships in general.

Taking a PhD in a radically different cultural background associates such cultural traits and perceived stigmas with an important line of your CV. I will that illustrate with key examples below.

(i) Western culture is strongly influenced by Greek philosophy and Christian principles. That results in that doubts and disputes are expected to be sorted out with logic and open dialogue. Also one is not morally accepted to seek usury, in the sense of short-term openly-declared advantages at the expense of one's partners. This mentality can be radically different in distant cultures. For instance, in Eastern cultures some unofficial hierarchy (e.g. age, status, caste) may dictate teaching/decisions overruling any objections, and even imply that a "leader" always expects advantageous deals. It is easy to foresee how that will quickly turn professional relationships awkward to an employee or manager coming from a different cultural background. For instance, anyone openly seeking advantages over the other part in negotiation will be perceived as a cheater in my country. Another simple example, I can say for sure that most of my colleagues would immediately refrain from hiring an Asian teacher, for fear of his/her methods.

(ii) Eastern cultures are strongly emphatic on a fashion "face culture" which is hard for Westerners to understand and accept. Again, this can quickly render a professional contact sour, as a westerner feels skating on thin ice without a map. Asking direct questions may offend like demanding explanations; the meaning of silence in a conversation is an emblematic example of communication mismatch. ...which bring us to the next main point.

(iii) Finally the language barrier is expected to be large. By language I mean both the idioms and the logic behind communication. Western languages are dominated by Latin eloquence and Germanic precision. One can fairly easily shift as a francophone to communicate ideas in English and still be understood clearly. Many Eastern languages emphasise on (face) interpersonal formalities and appraisal, on the need to communicate implied messages. These can be easily seen as undisguised flattery followed by "beating around the bush" which are behaviours frequently frowned upon at the work environment in the West.

The above list should embody associated issues, such as different methods and approaches to problems, mutually intrinsic behaviours perceived as arrogance, a mismatch regarding gender differences, etc. Therefore I believe an expectation of major cultural mismatch is the main obstacle to someone coming from , for instance, Asia seeking work in an American institution. As a closing remark, I emphasise I do not think a career suicide exists where one stays within the same cultural sphere where he obtained his PhD, as illustrated by the majority of employed residents having graduated at local universities, to be found anywhere. Also in such cases I believe the preference for local culture and standards are dictating the edge of locally-educated candidates.

  • 2
    I disagree, the point is to get a better idea of what Western perspective you are coming from, with an understanding that someone from different locations in the 'West' (USA, Brasil, Cuba?, if we limit to 'new world') may have different perspectives. Also, the OP does specifically mention countries as well as sub-regions, so your suggestion that they are not discussed is a bit puzzling, and I find it a bit rude to compare this inquiry to your favorite food. Like Pete, I do not understand your coyness.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 22:49
  • 1
    I am always a touch sceptical that "the West" is helpful as an umbrella for the academic and societal norms of USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands... do we include Poland? Russia? (And before you jump to any conclusions based on my name, I am English.)
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 5:35
  • "Western culture is strongly influenced by Greek philosophy and Christian principles. That results in that doubts and disputes are expected to be sorted out with logic and open dialogue." Hmm, French Wars Of Religion, anyone? How are you fitting in the Enlightenment with this summary of intellectual history?
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 5:38
  • 1
    "Western languages are dominated by Latin eloquence and Germanic precision" - oh, this is just silly now. Try watching episodes of Yes, Minister. And your claim "these can be easily seen as undisguised flattery followed by "beating around the bush" which are behaviours frequently frowned upon at the work environment in the West" - this strikes me as at best naive about how actual workplaces actually work, and I again refer you to Yes, Minister (Or just read some La Rochefoucauld)
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 5:43

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