I am currently located in central Europe. When I was hunting for an assistant professor position some months ago, I was also planning to apply to some US institutions for Tenure Track positions. However, one senior professor with some experience working in the US told me pretty much straight-up that this will be a waste of time, as "US universities do not hire people from outside the US/Canada on Tenure Tracks". Relativizing somewhat, stated that "of course exceptions exist, especially if they personally know the applicant, but generally you will get onto the reject pile immediately as they don't know your school well enough.". I was counselled to apply for a postdoc at an US institution first, if I really wanted to get into an US school.

Looking over the CVs of some existing assistant professors in good schools the statement could be accurate (almost nobody with the job title Assistant Professor seems to come directly from outside the US - many graduated somewhere else, but the last position before was almost always an US institution).

In your experience, is this sentiment correct? Does it even make sense to apply for a TT position in the US from outside (under the assumption that your CV is reasonable for a TT in the first place, of course)? Computer Science is most relevant to me, but any information from any STEM fields would be interesting as well.

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    Great question! I've heard a similar statement a few times, and I am interested as well. I am curious if it can be answered with numbers (e.g. parsing CVs, though it can be hard to distinguish if professors at Ivy League graduated from it because it is so good, because of cultural fit, or because less-networked applicants (or from less prestigious universities) are looked down a bit (and even a bit may mean no tenure, is such a competitive game). Mar 4, 2014 at 11:52
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    @PiotrMigdal I am thinking about doing some semi-formal number crunching for my blog - basically, just going over some good schools and checking where the current assistant professors have graduated from and where they were immediately before they became professors. Will update the question here if I get around doing that.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 4, 2014 at 12:12
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    US universities do not hire people from outside the US/Canada on Tenure Tracks — This is simply false.
    – JeffE
    Mar 4, 2014 at 13:15
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    @xLeitix You might be interested in F. Gargiulo and T. Carletti, Driving forces in researchers mobility (2013) (I've learnt about it during seminar John Dudley's seminar Surviving in Science: What They Don’t Tell You about Careers in Research!); they key message ways that you need to have great graduate school OR first postdoc. Though, I don't remember any US-specific details. (Anyway, ETHZ is certainly a place you can name-drop. ;)) BTW: looking forward to hearing about your analysis. Mar 4, 2014 at 14:08
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    This might largely depend on the field, but in my field, if you did a PhD outside of a US university, you really do need a stellar record. Your application will be looked at with skepticism, and you need to demonstrate that your research will have an impact in the US, and that you do have a competitive record (if all your pubs are in regional journals that nobody in the US has heard of, for example, people won't take you seriously). Of course, schools hire outsiders, but this is quite rare and the European scholars I've seen in US universities are very very accomplished people. Mar 4, 2014 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


While the "I don't know your university" element can have an influence on whether your application gets summarily dismissed to the reject pile, it's less of an issue than one might think. We all travel to Europe and Asia for conferences now, and meet colleagues who come from different countries. I can probably name the top few universities in my field in many European countries, as well as personally know people in each of them.

But there's a more mundane logistical reason for potentially avoiding applicants from other countries: expenses. There's always a risk in getting someone to come for an on-site interview, but with a foreign candidate the expense and logistical work (visa processing, payment methods and so on) are more onerous. We always want to find strong candidates, but when there's a large pool of highly qualified candidates in the US, it can be convenient to focus on those that we expect have a chance of actually making it through the interview process and coming.

There's also the question of whether someone from Europe (as opposed to someone working there) really does want to come to the US, or is just casting a wide net. But that can be addressed in candidate statements or even conversations.

None of this means that foreign candidates are disqualified. Far from it. But it creates a moment of doubt.

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    This comment strikes me as just right. Here's another factor to consider, although this might be specific to the humanities. Usually when I apply for a job, I'm required to submit a cover letter, cv, teaching statement, writing sample and research agenda. Each of these documents is quite difficult to write and some like the cover letter and teaching statement may need to be tailored quite carefully to demonstrating how you fit in at the particular institution. Writing such docs is a skill, and my sense talking to european colleagues is that this is strange and hard for them.
    – user10636
    Apr 17, 2014 at 11:34
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    Agreed. If we have two otherwise equal candidates competing for the last slot on the short list, but one is from out of the country, then we might slide the domestic one ahead of the foreign one. "Equal" is so hard to define, though.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 13, 2014 at 22:14

I'm going to speak out of personal experience. I did my PhD in Japan, and then started doing a Postdoc in the US, my University in Japan is regarded in most rankings as a better institution that my current one in the US (not by much, but still).

I applied roughly to the same number of postdocs while in Japan and now, that I'm changing gigs as well. In Japan I got only 3 replies. While now I got many more replies and much more requests for interview.

So there's that to that. I'm also Mexican, with a valid travel visa (yes, they asked that), so we as part of NAFTA can get relatively easy working Visas (we only need a letter of acceptance). Also, a trip from Mexico City to LA is cheaper/shorter than a trip from Washington to LA

I think our experiences have many differences, but in my personal point of view, yes it is easier to get positions if you are already in the US.

Also, to be blunt, few people in the US are going to take you seriously if you do not have at least a postdoc (in whatever institution). Even James Watson (Nobel Prize Laureate) did a Postdoc.

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    "few people in the US are going to take you seriously if you do not have at least a postdoc (in whatever institution)". That's a separate question I think, and I'd disagree with that.
    – Suresh
    Mar 4, 2014 at 16:23
  • To be honest I've never met anyone in a Tenure track position without a Postdoc. I know Terrence Tao did not do one. But that's too atypical a case. I do think is a nice coffee topic. BTW, I meant any postdoc, US or foreign. Mar 4, 2014 at 18:13
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    @Leonpalafox It depends highly on discipline. In computer science, for example, getting tenure-track without a postdoc is not uncommon (though it's becoming less so).
    – Irwin
    Mar 4, 2014 at 19:42
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    concur with above. In my field, postdocs are rare, and it is more standard to go from ABD to assistant professor. Mar 4, 2014 at 20:03

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