When I read general recommendations on how to choose a PhD programme/advisor, it seems that many academics agree that one of the most important factors is the reputation of the advisor.

Next year, I may have the opportunity to undertake a PhD under the supervision of a "superstar" faculty who is considered an authority in his field. However, the professor in question recently moved to a university where the official language of instruction is one that I don't speak (though I would be allowed to write my thesis in english), and thus I would most likely not be able to gain teaching experience during this time.

Now, most job offers for postdoctoral or tenure-track professor positions that I see advertised online require a teaching statement and that one of the letters of recommendation address the teaching ability of the candidate.

In light of this, my question is the following: Is teaching experience for entry level academic jobs so important that it is always better to have a fair amount of it while completing a PhD no matter how well-reputed your potential supervisor could be?

  • 3
    Can there be other ways of getting teaching experience? For instance, you could learn the local language and then, teach.
    – Shion
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 6:35
  • It would be nice to know details: what languages do you speak about and what countries do you speak about. Does the prof's new school have any international bachelor/master programs in English? If so, you can teach there, these are usually not quite popular to teach so you should be able to sneak in these.
    – yo'
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 9:42

4 Answers 4


I'd advise caution: completing a PhD with no teaching experience is risky, as you're putting all your eggs in the "research" basket.

As other answers mentioned, there certainly are jobs that don't necessarily require teaching experience. These are likely to be jobs in places where research is paramount; probably the top-tier research universities. There is massive competition for these jobs; the number of such jobs in such a year is at best a few percent of the number of new PhDs. Only the most successful researchers will have a chance at getting them, and if you don't turn out to be one of them (or discover you just don't enjoy research that much), you'll be out of luck in this arena.

At most of the remaining institutions, teaching is more important and experience will be valued, and you'll be in competition with candidates who have substantial experience. So if you don't have any, you may be out of luck here too.

(I don't share MHH's confidence that alternative teaching activities such as high school outreach will be viewed as similarly valuable by a search committee. Community college teaching might, but it also involves a higher level of responsibility and time commitment.)

That would leave only the bottom of the barrel of academic jobs: those who don't care too much about research accomplishments or teaching experience, and just need a warm body with a PhD. These won't be nice jobs: they'll have high teaching loads, low pay, and limited instructional support; and even so there's intense competition for them.

The remaining option would be to leave academia for industry.

So in summary, if you aren't able to gain meaningful teaching experience, you'll be committing yourself to aiming for the most difficult jobs to get, without much of a fallback plan (within academia) if that doesn't work out.

(Disclaimer: My experience is limited to the US, and mostly in mathematics. Things may be different elsewhere.)


Go where you can do the best research, and don't worry about teaching experience. I had no teaching experience whatsoever when I was hired as an assistant professor.

This could depend on your field: in my field (theoretical high-energy physics), postdoc applications almost never ask for a teaching statement, and postdocs don't teach. Junior faculty jobs do require a teaching statement, but my impression is that it's one of the less important elements of the application.

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    But what if the OP's field does require a teaching statement and teaching experience? For instance, I know that my department would not consider hiring a tenure track assistant professor with no teaching experience.
    – Shion
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 6:34
  • Could you include at least some information about your location, please? At least Europe/US could be useful.
    – penelope
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 16:00
  • @Shion you can get that experience in a postdoc though Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 1:50

Do it! If you are worrying about the teaching experience you can always spend a summer at at an outreach program teaching motivated high school students, underserved community members, ect. That kind of teaching experience can lead to a very strong teaching statement even with no college teaching experience. But anyways, you should focus on your research, while faculty positions generally do require some proof that you aren't an awful teacher, postdocs for the most part do not. Often a postdoc is a person's first time teaching.

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    I'm not sure how things are in the country the asker is considering going to or in the country you're in but in the UK, for example, PhD students don't get the summer off. Spending a whole summer doing something that isn't your research might not be an option. Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 9:34
  • I was referring to the summer before the OP enters grad school. Usually you don't start grad school until the fall. Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 20:48

Mathematics in many language is the same, it's not that hard to learn if the language is reasonably close to what you know (French, Italian, Spanish, German are close to English). In any case, learning how to speak Foreigner is always a good thing.

So applies for research universities applications. If you are interested in teaching for liberal arts colleges, they really want a US teaching experience. Other countries typically have much better prepared students entering university, so your experience would be less interesting for them, because you would know how to teach more advanced students than the ones they have.

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