I am a mathematics Ph.D student in the United States, and recently received a 3 year postdoctoral offer in Germany, which I have only a few weeks to accept or decline. The offer is very good (high salary, travel funding, no teaching unless I want to) the PI is basically the top person in my field, and the position also solves my 2 body problem (my SO has a similar offer from the same place), so I am tempted to accept it.

However, I have sometimes heard that an American doing a postdoc in Europe is at a disadvantage applying for permanent jobs since European positions are often restricted to EU citizens and American schools are less likely to hire someone who did a postdoc in Europe. Can someone (on either side of the pond) offer perspective on whether my concerns are valid? I need to accept or decline the position before offers for US postdocs are sent out.

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    One of the bigger concerns often is in respect to teaching: the expectations for teaching during a postdoc position is different for American and European universities, which may cause problems when you seek positions in the US (where teaching is, at least on paper, something that everyone asks about). But if you read "no teaching unless I want to" as "I will get the opportunity to choose to teach", then you shouldn't have a problem there. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 14:52
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    This is a no-brainer. You are clearly afraid. Get the German post-doc and go with your SO. Quite frankly, European postdocs are way more prestigious than American ones and there is absolutely no restriction on nationality (rather on the contrary).
    – my.back
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 18:48

2 Answers 2


I'm aware of a few potential issues applying for academic jobs in the US after a European (or non-North American) postdoc. These won't necessarily come up in any given job, but they're the problems I've heard of people having. (Specifically, I know of different people who've had each of these problems individually.)

Many American schools are reluctant to hire someone who doesn't have adequate teaching experience, and especially at least some experience teaching service courses (courses to non-majors), since that's such a large part of the job in the US. European postdocs often have less or different teaching requirements.

Many schools can't afford to fly people in from Europe to interview for position, and will therefore officially or unofficially discount applications from someone in Europe.

There's still some variation in how people write recommendation letters, so a European writer is more likely to write a letter which comes across as negative to Americans. (More specifically, in the US, almost any negative comment in a recommendation letter, even a very mild one, is taken as a hint that the problem is much worse than is being said. In Europe, I'm told it's more common to include mild critique of an applicant in an overall positive letter.)

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    In my experience letters of recommendation follow the same standards in Europe and US: anything other than a glowing review and listing of the applicant's many extraordinary qualities will be considered a weakness. But I work in a very international setting, so maybe other fields/settings are different.
    – F'x
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 12:48
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    I have heard the same as Henry about European letter writers, but I think if you coach your letter writer properly and explain how letters are read in the North American context, you might be fine.
    – Kallus
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:02

I'll contribute to answering on the European side… nationality requirements for European positions are rare, although not totally unheard of (especially in some strategic sectors). To give only a few examples, French CNRS positions and UK EPSRC fellowships have no nationality requirements.

More common, however, are language requirements: positions that include some teaching (lecturer, assistant professor, …) very often require that you speak the language of the country. So, unless you're targeting the UK in particular, if you get a post-doc in the EU, you'd better pick up the language!

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    I can say this is not completely correct. I'm from Belgium and I've studied physics where almost all classes were given in English by people from all around - even lecturers from Belgium had to speak English for exchange students. Same goes for software engineering which I'm studying now. I'd say it depends on the field and country, not just the whole of EU. Most science/engineering classes here seem to be given partly, or completely in English :) Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:15
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    @DylanMeeus I agree it's not always the case… but still, the point of view of the professor is not the same as that of the student. You said “partly in English”, and in most places that's only above a certain level (Masters program, for example, tend to be in English, but Bachelor not so much)… but if you recruit someone as a colleague, you want him to help with all the classes, not only the high-level stuff :)
    – F'x
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:38
  • I was talking about a bachelor course actually. But yes, it's more prominent in master courses - and the country plays a big part. In Belgium, we are split in 3 national languages, so we use English to communicate very often. For countries such as France / Germany, I think English is more of a 'stretch' :) Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:56

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