I was trying to determine the probability that someone who is currently a research fellow will become a lecturer or assistant professor within the next five years and I was wondering if someone could approximate it here.

I suppose that it is dependent on many factors but is it possible to calculate a rough estimation without additional details or with stated assumptions?

  • 1
    Can you estimate it by taking the number of lecturers/assistant professors in your department and dividing by the number of research fellows?
    – Allure
    May 5, 2021 at 23:02
  • 2
    Very discipline and university specific. In my school, the probability is zero. May 5, 2021 at 23:11
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    @BryanKrause That assumes professors who retire are replaced. In many places the positions end up simply eliminated, with the necessary teaching being covered with larger classes, higher teaching workloads for current staff, or poorly paid temporary staff. May 5, 2021 at 23:39
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    Is this a research question or are you just wondering about your own chances?
    – Buffy
    May 5, 2021 at 23:49
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    Does this answer your question? What ratio of PhD graduates in STEM fields ultimately end up as (tenured) professors? Please clarify on which sector/country/gender you are interested: that would be fun!
    – EarlGrey
    May 6, 2021 at 2:25

1 Answer 1


As was alluded to in the comments, this really depends. I'm speaking from the perspective of computer science, which on average has a better job market than other disciplines. If you're talking about a research fellowship in very small fields (say, abstract math), you'll probably need to reconsider everything written below.

Successful research fellowships lead to the RF obtaining a number of impactful publications, an additional enthusiastic reference letter writer or two, and a broader research network. They may gain valuable experience writing grants and advising students, which further bolsters their prospects.

If these conditions are met, I'd say that in an average to good job market, such a research fellow is more than %50 likely to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in a reasonable university.

In a bad job market (e.g. the one we had in 2020), these chances decrease dramatically, but still - small, less reputable universities may still be willing to hire a good researcher as an opportunity hire (one that won't be available to them under normal circumstances).

Overall, the chances of a research fellow getting a permanent position are no better than those of a fresh PhD getting one, assuming all else is equal.

  • "Overall, the chances of a research fellow getting a permanent position are no better than those of a fresh PhD getting one, assuming all else is equal." I find this claim hard to believe. May 6, 2021 at 6:22
  • @AnonymousPhysicist Yes that seems unlikely. Can you give better probabilistic bounds?
    – Katherine
    May 6, 2021 at 10:44
  • Assuming all else is equal - yes. Lots of people do 6 or 7 years of PhD precisely to avoid needing to do a postdoc. Again, this is not data, just anecdotes.
    – Spark
    May 7, 2021 at 2:37

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