Despite experiencing a lot of drama and negativity at my university, I love my city and hate the idea of relocating. Sometimes I even think of reapplying there just so I could stay in this city (this is its only university) and still attend grad. school, but the negativity would be a lot to deal with. There's another program that seems like a good fit for me, but I think I'd be miserable in another city, even if I enjoyed the program itself.

However, is relocating a necessary part of academic life? For example, with the job market being so tight, I've heard that you have to be willing to move almost anywhere for a job. I've also seen posts where Ph.D. advisors suggest their students apply to specific post docs/jobs etc. Can you specify that you refuse to move from a specific city? Is it even realistic to pursue an academic career if you're not willing to relocate (perhaps even multiple times)?

Edit- I'm from the US

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    Many academic people are not happy with moving, but if one refuses, and there are no academic jobs within 300 miles, then you're just unemployed. You don't have to move, but at the same time you may not have a job, if you refuse. It is a conflict, yes. There is no resolution, I'm afraid, even if we tried to make things more humane. The closest thing we may manage to "humanity" is attention to professional couples... Commented May 29, 2020 at 1:52
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    With the exception of a few metropolitan areas, there is generally no more than one or two research university in the proximity, which mean there is not more than one or two departments that can hire you. Also, almost any decent program like to hire people with diverse experience (ie not people who were already there for a decade), and few academic subjects can be pursued nowadays without outside postdoc experience. A candidate who spent her/his undergraduate, graduate and post-doc years in the same place is a huge red flag for most hiring comity.
    – Greg
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 1:57
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented May 31, 2020 at 9:02
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    I'm suprised that many academics don't want to relocate. For example there are people who only target tier One research instutions and they don't accept any less
    – SSimon
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 9:16
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    Hi, it looks like you're defacing some of your content. It's not okay to do that on StackExchange once people have put in the effort to answer your questions. There may be other options like dissociation (see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/96732/…) or account deletion (see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5999/…) but neither will remove the actual content (which is also saved in internet archives). Defacing your posts by editing just makes them more visible at the top.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 22:57

8 Answers 8


There are exceptions in some specific fields (for example accounting) where corporate jobs are much more attractive than academic ones, but, in general, an academic considers themselves very lucky if they can find any academic job at all, let alone one in a particular city.

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    Since OP didn't name a specific country, I think you should mention the country you refer to (I assume USA), the job market is not that terrible everywhere (e.g. here in Czech Republic it is not great, but far cry from the USA horror stories). Commented May 30, 2020 at 10:53
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    @Martin Modrák can foreigners apply in Czech Republic
    – SSimon
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 9:19
  • @SSimon Typically any national can apply to work anywhere in the world (except for certain jobs requiring specific clearances that may be restricted). Whether an organisation is willing to go through the potential visa hassle (for non-EU citizens in Europe for example) is another matter. I suspect that universities and research institutes in Europe are amongst the most diverse organisations in Europe with respect to nationalities overall. (Including PhDs and PostDocs.)
    – DetlevCM
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 10:56
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    @SSimon the Czech system doesn't have a direct equivalent of "tenure" so hard to answer. I am expected to get a permanent contract after the one I have now if that's what you're asking for. Foreigners from all over the world can and do successfully apply. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 9:03
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    @SSimon Not sure this is a good place to discuss it, but I can't find a way to move this to chat. Yes, there are permanent contracts (the state imposes limits on temporary contracts in general). There is huge variability, but salaries are way worse than west EU in absolute numbers. On relative scale most positions I've seen are above average wage but not by much. We also have universal free healthcare of a decent standard. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 11:12

Let's say you're completing your PhD in Underwater Basketweaving. If you're going to carry on in an academic career without relocating, you need two things to happen: first, the university needs to be looking to hire a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Underwater Basketweaving at just around the time you're ready to submit, and then you need to actually land the job.

The problem is, the university already has someone who does something rather similar to you - your advisor. Nobody needs two Professors of Underwater Basketweaving! So, you need them to leave, or at least be on the cusp of retirement, for a position to become available. Let's say that you get lucky, and something comes up. Then you have a second problem: there are lots of other bright young things in the field of Underwater Basketweaving. And from the committee's perspective, your job talk is all stuff they've heard before (because they're your colleagues!), whereas the external candidates have Exciting! New! Ideas! Oh, and Prof. Jones is still bitter that your former advisor got that corner office back in 1983, so will argue against hiring you. Your odds aren't good. That's not to say it never happens, but it's not something to bank on.

That said, plenty of people stay at their PhD institution in other roles: as technical staff, in research support, or in academic administration. So it is not necessarily all-or-nothing.

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    Indeed! Not to mention that having multiple degrees or degrees + faculty position is often negatively viewed as a sign of "academic incest"
    – erfink
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 22:50
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    Although the points here are valid they are easily circumvented by doing a strong postdoc elsewhere before coming back to your Alma Mater. Commented May 30, 2020 at 0:16
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    @ZeroTheHero Yes, it is sometimes possible to leave and then come back again later. However, that requires (at least) two relocations.
    – avid
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 1:47
  • @avid Well I wasn’t thinking relocation included going for a few years of postdoc but you are technically correct. I’m not 100% convinced of your argument on duplication. If the university runs a center on underwater basket weaving they might well hire their best student to stick around and add to the critical mass. But I think you are generally right, especially in smaller units where diversity helps with curriculum breadth. Commented May 30, 2020 at 3:01
  • One can work around this particular issue by being willing to relocate between disciplines, instead of between cities. Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 17:33

No, relocating is not necessary in Academia.

However, not being open to relocation significantly reduces your opportunities. In most cases, rendering them effectively zero.

With a huge competition for academic positions, one rarely can afford to lose openings in other cities/countries/continents—simply because the opportunities (academic community/research programs/grants/etc) that those positions offer outweigh (in their eyes, subjectively) the problems connected with relocation.

If for you relocation-related issues mean more—that's ok. Nothing wrong with that. You still might have something happening in your city. But it would not be productive to think that it must happen or that one is entitled to have the opportunity like that. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reality is the way it is now.

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    Your first paragraph effectively contradicts the second.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 10:08
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    @gerrit that was done intentionally; however, it is not a 100% contradiction. It gives an accent to the choice and one's own feelings. Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:08
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    It is effectively a contradiction to state that relocating is not necessary but that not doing so renders opportunities to effectively zero :)
    – gerrit
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 16:51

The question does not specify a country or a discipline. This answer is from the perspective of the Nordic countries and mathematics.

The higher up you go, the greater the pressure to move

Getting a bachelor and master at the same university is very common. Continuing on to do a PhD there is completely normal. For a postdoc, one is expected to move, or maybe get a short one at the home university before finding a proper one elsewhere.

If you get serious funding you can maybe stay longer at your home institute, but getting a permanent position is very challenging.

Furthermore, many grants require experience at a "research environment" (other universities or research institutes being the typical way of achieving this) other than the one where one is intending to use the grant. International experience is also valued, but is usually not a hard requirement.

Some formal, but maybe not the informal, requirements can be met by extensive long-term visits to other universities.

More prestigious universities require more

If your home university is distant or not very good, or at least if your discipline there is not strong, they are likely less selective. Still, you would be a stronger candidate after having been elsewhere for a while.

Relocation teaches things

There is a different focus on research, sure, but also teaching and the social life of the faculty is likely organized in a different way. This broadens one's horizons.

It may be easier to move when younger

Commitments, such as children, partner (who can have their own commitments), old parents you need to take care of, ownership of a house or car or other such things, etc., make it harder to move. It might be a good idea to consider if the amount of commitments will increase or decrease with time.

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    Quite similar in Czech Republic - not all the world is USA :-). I know many people in reasonably senior positions that never relocated (but some changed institutions within the same city). The pressure is there and getting stronger by the year but it is not overwhelming, especially in less crowded fields that compete with industry for people (e.g. my area: computer science/statistics). I am 4 years post PhD, in a cosy, somewhat tenure-track position in a city I've lived my whole life in and even have offers for other academic positions here. Commented May 30, 2020 at 10:43

Something that some of the other answers are alluding to but not explicitly stating is that your home institution may purposely have a policy not to hire any of their graduates without good reason, not just when a spot in their domain is open or not. The intention is that by having done your education at that university under that faculty, you don’t bring anything new to the university. In essence, though this is obviously not 100% true, the idea is that your academic knowledge is a distillation of the knowledge of the current faculty. This policy is colloquially sometimes referred to as “academic inbreeding.”

There of course are always exceptions, ranging from an advancement of research focus since attending the university, to being a breakout star right out of the gate, etc.

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    Academic inbreeding can also be a symptom of nepotism.
    – cbeleites
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 11:57

Factors that increase probability of needing to relocate

  • living in an area with a low density of universities
  • living in an area with poor transport links
  • living in a country with a low population density
  • applying for jobs in a country where there is a culture of helping new employees relocate very proactively (e.g.: providing accommodation; spousal hire)
  • teaching-only or research-and-teaching positions (because you will be timetabled to teach classes on campus regularly, so it is harder to get away with living far away from your employer)
  • working in a lab-based discipline
  • working full-time (because full-time employees are expected to be available on any working day)

Factors that decrease probability of needing to relocate

  • living in an area with a high density of universities (because there are more jobs on your doorstep)
  • living in an area with excellent transport links (because it makes commuting to a distant university easier -- this is very common in the UK)
  • living in a densely populated country (because there are more jobs generally)
  • applying for jobs in a country without a culture of helping new employees relocate very proactively (in the UK, spousal hire is illegal, so employers are generally more sympathetic to requests for remote working due to "personal reasons"/"family reasons"/"two-body problems")
  • research-only positions (because it is easier to get away with not being on campus so much if you are not giving classes)
  • working in a non-lab-based discipline (provided you have access to a decent academic library within commuting distance of where you live)
  • working part-time (because you do not have to justify not always being available, provided you do not mind staying at hotels regularly)

"However, is relocating a necessary part of academic life? "

No. It is not necessary in any formal manner. It is however highly probable that in your career, if you want to have a reasonably good research career, you will need to relocate.

I do not know the precise probability (nor anyone), but my rough estimate would be something like 90% that you would need to relocate to have a good career in academia. In fact, I have seen indeed only 1 out of 20 or so academics that got a lasting career in academia that have not relocated. (This may be even more rare in some fields.)


StackOverflow says that you are a new contributor and to be nice. So I won't say what I feel like saying first off after reading your post.

You have left a lot unsaid, I feel. Unsaid about yourself, your field of study, your career intentions - even your nationality. I raise nationality as your approach to this question is not the usual US approach to such things. Even Europeans don't want to micromanage their career like you seem to want to. There's also a very strange deference to the viewpoints of senior colleagues - something that has gone by the board for decades in the western hemisphere. Maybe you are first generation Indian-American, Pakistani-American or Chinese-American and have been doing what your parents advise up to now. That excess regard for older people's views on your life decisions no longer washes in today's world. Believe me, the one thing you need to do in academia is to be your own man and trust in your own experience, your own analysis and your own decisions until events show otherwise. In other arenas like business, industry, even the professions, you can get by on group-think and following-my-leader. But the stark individualism of academia (in research moreover) makes it vital to determine your own perspective soon after your PhD starts. Mistakes made from your own analysis plus your own experience are honest mistakes. You shouldn't be too proud to make them or too embarrassed to acknowledge learning from them. So, love and respect your parents but make your own decisions. And try to respect faculty members' viewpoints on their field of expertise - but draw a line on their input to your career. I'd personally only listen to those professors who have shown that either (a) care for all students welfare or (b) care particularly for your future. But even here you must take the full responsibility and decide yourself.

I've also seen posts where Ph.D. advisors suggest their students apply to specific post docs/jobs etc. Can you specify that you refuse to move from a specific city? Is it even realistic to pursue an academic career if you're not willing to relocate (perhaps even multiple times)?

I feel that you are not telling us the full story here. I get the feeling that your viewpoint on your career (perhaps even on life opportunities in general) may have prematurely crystallized. Your comments above betoken a naive trust in a self-chosen 'orthodoxy' - albeit one occasionally supported by instances where a supervising academic may act with immoderate or ambiguous interest where an ex-student is involved - that isn't really the norm at all. Let's get something straight here. You're not going to get any interview or appointment on the back of playing your supervisor - however subtle an operator you may think you are. Even if you did it would be so much the worse for you: the high expectations of your new employer/supervisor and the likely lack of commitment on your own part having got the opportunity without real personal effort would soon lead to disappointment on the other side. Then where do you go ? So, you may have read that Prof X suggests some internship/fellowship to student Y but this is very much the exception rather than the rule. And God help you, if you think you can specify the location of a job that you are prepared to consider your professor recommending you for then you are in cuckooland and damn well you know it ! On the last question, I know that some colleges appoint many of their ex-undergraduates and many of their doctoral students to their staff. As other posters pointed out, sometimes there is a brief low-level sojourn at another college until they 'return' to their alma mater. But look hard at the quality staff in your own college, even your own department. Not just faculty but those in support positions. There are always lots of foreigners among this group. In my own experience, the only genuine educators I met in my own country were foreigners. They were the ones who broke the old mold of bad curricula, boring lectures and mindless assignments and projects. Having got their positions mostly through familiarity with senior faculty, the native staff were naturally unwilling to appear disloyal by pushing for changes that they may privately have favoured. So I don't think it serves the students well to have faculty who are ex-students of that same college and certainly not also natives of that city. To me, a university's ranking for educational quality is synonymous with its commitment to new blood faculty appointments - the alumni just don't want the social hassle, if they care at all.

Despite experiencing a lot of drama and negativity at my university, I love my city and hate the idea of relocating. Sometimes I even think of reapplying there just so I could stay in this city (this is its only university) and still attend grad. school, but the negativity would be a lot to deal with. There's another program that seems like a good fit for me, but I think I'd be miserable in another city, even if I enjoyed the program itself.

You're saying 'drama' and 'negativity' but not what you mean by that. Drama in everyday life can be good, e.g. colorful characters, vigorous debate, horseplay or humor, or bad, e.g. personality clashes, bad feeling, psychological warfare, workplace politics and worse. Negativity can be as innocuous as a thickly conservative approach to all things or as soul-destroying as those individuals who dedicate every breath of their being to stomping down other people's sand-castles. If it's the latter end of these spectra, you know you have to go elsewhere if you want to have an academic career. Even if it's something less severe but still a drag on your humor and appetite for the workplace and those in it, you have to go. Firstly for your own nerves' sake as events outside work will present their own problems and no one can fight wars on 2 fronts. Secondly (but to the wider community this is the primary reason) you owe it to others - particularly students and their hard-working parents - not take on a task on their behalf that you have no real zest for yet still choose to do just so you have a secure status in your home city. If you do, you'll become a part of that negativity and drama that you claim to dislike.

You have been in just one city and one college in your life - yet still fear the challenge of another. Don't dress it up as being content in this community and doubting if another city could provide that same sense of congeniality. Good cities don't allow bad colleges. The colleges are the one hope for social advancement in most cities. All the important questions about what's wrong in the local community are raised there, many by newly arrived faculty from other parts of the country or world who have experienced better organized situations elsewhere and ask why not here too.

The thing I just don't get here is how someone could aspire to an academic career but still not have a strong appetite for new experiences, new people, new opinions, ideas and most of all new cultures. Don't you ever get tired of the men or womenfolk in your home town ? Don't you ever get the urge to get off your ass and do something radical about it ? Higher learning (i.e. learning not just for economic advancement) and relocation to new community have always been inseparable. Christ, even astrologers put both higher learning and distant travel into the 9th House with theology and philosophy.

If you want to be a serious academic, you've got to embrace this happily - otherwise you won't be positive to the spotty teenager asking the awkward question one frosty November morning in your first semester as assistant professor. If you can't resolve this, you simply aren't cut out for this profession - it's just the security and conveniences of it that are attracting you.


Gemini, having read this post I would categorically say that you have no future in your current college until you prove yourself elsewhere. And you know that this situation is entirely of your own doing. I also agree with others' point on getting some help on self-awareness, as opposed to awareness of others behaviour which you seem to analyse quite well.

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    I honestly don't appreciate bringing nationality/generations guesses and generalizations in your answer and would appreciate if you remove them. Commented May 31, 2020 at 3:51
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    @Trunk- I'm a caucasian American and a nontraditional age student wanting to go into a humanities field. I was deliberately vague about my field because I've shared a specific situation with a professor, and it would be easy to figure out her identity if I shared the field or more specific info. My aversion to relocation is indeed because I love this city and not due to parental pressure. I'm also not originally from my current city and state, but I've been traveling here and have loved it my whole life, and I can't see myself living anywhere else.
    – user124395
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 4:43
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    Additionally, I fail to see how not wanting to move means that I'm not open to new ideas or don't appreciate other cultures.
    – user124395
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 5:06
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    Having a partner or people to care about (parents?) can also be a reason not to want to change cities. This is not something "bad" and does not mean that one is not open to new cultures. (Also, most of my foreign collegues (who are here for 1-2 years) do not learn the language, don't have any nonacademic friends -- they do not get to know a new culture).
    – user111388
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 8:56
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    @Anton Menshov - I raised nationality/ethnic background solely because of Gemini's excess deference to the opinion of his/her supervisor. Since this is very rare in most western students I think it is fair to speculate on this and to encourage Gemini to assert his/her own independence of decision.
    – Trunk
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 10:56

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