I am a researcher making its way (very slowly) to professor in Europe. After several years of effort and relocations, I have now my own research program and have earned a promotion to supervise PhD students and postdocs. In around three years, I will be applying for full professor positions, hopefully.

Now, I have recently received an offer from a very famous professor in the US who wants to move in the direction of my research field. It is a permanent position as staff scientist (director) in their group with a close to decent salary. It is clear that with them things will move faster and the impact will be high.

I am ambitious and still want to lead my own group and succeed as a PI in the future (even if I have certain age now). If I accept this position in the US, will I be still be considered for promotions as professor in the American system? Thank you in advance!

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    Your question boils down to asking for career advice under fairly special circumstances. I think it will be hard to impossible to give objective answers. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


Probably you will not be considered for promotion to professor. But you could still apply for position of professor, either there or at other institutions. (It may be considered bad form to start applying for other positions right away; wait a few years. And by then your "famous professor" may be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you.)

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    The flip side is that being in a non-teaching position for several years may harm your chances for a faculty position, compared to other candidates who can show recent evidence of successful teaching. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 15:28
  • Thanks for the advice! I think I will inform them of my future goals to be PI and ask for opportunities to support teaching. Would that work for future applications? Thanks again
    – mongomongo
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 19:10

This might be possible, but only if you arrange it at the very beginning.

But first, note that "Full Professor" in Europe and "Professor" in the US mean very different things. "Full Professor" is about the same in both places except that, I think, in Europe a department will have only one Full Professor and in the US there may be many. Here (US), Full professor means teaching, research, and service (with different balance different places) but no assumption of administration duties. The term Professor can apply to an Assistant Professor with a seven year probationary period leading to tenure and an Associate Professor title. Several years later, if the person has done well according to the judgement of the faculty, they may be promoted to Full Professor.

But the above is the normal path for people starting out. When a university hires a person from another institution, they are inserted somewhere in the cycle, but almost everyone undergoes a probationary period. (Einsteins excepted, of course.)

And, almost everywhere, moving from Staff Scientist to Professor would be unusual. Not impossible, but don't assume that it is a normal or common path that would obviously be open to you.

My advice would be to negotiate the terms at the very start. I would suggest something like asking to be made an Associate Professor on hire with a, say, two year probationary period. If you are a world renowned researcher (Einstein, again), then ask for more, but probably not less.

The problematic part, I think, would be that you don't say you have any teaching experience. Almost all Professors here (all ranks) do some teaching. For those doing high level research in a place in which that is the most important item, it will be less, in most cases, but usually there will be some, even if it is only advanced graduate courses. And, supervising graduate students is also an important element of the job.

If they will start you out as Assistant Professor with a long probationary period, make sure you understand the terms. How much will teaching count in a tenure decision? Research? Other? Can it be done by somebody stressing one of these more than expected, but leaving the others to wither?

But, if you don't negotiate it at the start, I fear you would get stuck with no path forward. And maybe not a path out, either.

I assume the professor you are talking to has some clout. Perhaps enough to get the university to go along with your requests. In most cases, the path I suggest (Associate Prof, short probationary period) would be palatable to some, but not all, R1 universities, which are the ones stressing research above all. After a few years, if you do well, promotion to Full Professor will open for you.

Don't be shy. Don't make assumptions.

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    I suppose one can ask about converting the position, but I really doubt that it will be that simple, The hiring process for staff scientists versus tenure(track) faculty is usually completely different. Prof. Famous might be able to hire a staff scientist basically on their own authority (paid from their own grant), but hiring tenure(track) faculty is a much higher-level decision, and almost always has to involve an (inter)national competitive search. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 15:23
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    It seems a little like having someone offer to give you a bicycle, and you ask them if they can give you a car instead. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 15:24
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    I agree with both Nate and Buffy here... This is both A) Unlikely, and also B) Almost certainly the best way to get on the professor track through this path. That said, in my field at least, it is pretty common in some of the 'big famous' labs for a lieutenant-like tenure-track professorship under the umbrella of the 'big famous' lab, and these professors tend to take a more active role in the mentorship of the students and day to day operations of the lab. That said, these professors are hired as assistant professors, not promoted from a staff scientist role.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 23:32
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    ...cont... I wouldn't suggest applying for this position and then negotiating up, though. I would start a separate communication with the professor indicating that you are interested in assistant professor jobs in the US and think it could be a good fit to work closely with their lab. Odds are not great, but it could develop into something beneficial for you anyways.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 23:36
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    I think the minimum is that you get an idea at the start what your future options are there. Will you have a shot at converting to a faculty position? How much can the professor support you and ease your way. It isn't so much that you are allowed to teach, but that you have a realistic view of your possible future there. That, along with some advice on how to maximize it - at that institution. Try to work with the professor.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 14:10

I think it depends on your age, and also the country you're currently in. There is definitely a bit of ageism in academia, so I wouldn't recommend it if you're in your late 40s or early 50s, but if you're still below or in your thirties, then joining a big group with the prospect of some high impact papers would be no harm to your career.

The UK or Australian systems seem much better for mid career researchers than the US one, so you're in one of those systems and want stability, you should stay.

  • I think this answer is just plain wrong. US perspective.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 11:13
  • @Buffy can you elaborate please?
    – Mariah
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 11:46
  • @Mariah, age has nothing whatever to do with it. The current country has nothing to do with it.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 12:12

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