In academia, usually we have to do postdocs before getting recruited as an assistant proffessor.

However, recently I've seen a spectacular exception who already got an offer for assistant professorship in a top university for the near future, while still being a PhD candidate. The Twitter news also received congratulations from many famous and productive professors, some of which had won Nobel prizes. Their success really inspires us who want to be like them. This young scientist indeed publishes well though not among the top of many talented PhDs or postdocs in their field in terms of citation of H-index.

So, what can we learn from their success? What's more important than publications and we can try to achieve?

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    I expect it is impossible to answer this question without understanding the work of this scientist and its context. (Also, it's more common in engineering for folks to not do multiple postdocs.) May 19 at 18:03
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    What is more important than publications? Not worrying about other people's successes (or failures) is one.
    – Jon Custer
    May 19 at 18:07
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    To add to my comment: I can think of several problems in my research area, all unknown and incomprehensible to non-mathematicians, where a grad student who publishes a single paper solving one of them and nothing else could get multiple offers for tenured positions. A sufficiently good paper is worth 1000x or 1000000x an average paper. May 19 at 18:12
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    @AlexanderWoo, probably tenure-track rather than tenured. Even Caltech would want to have a person go through a probationary period.
    – Buffy
    May 19 at 18:27
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    In many departments at top institutions, an assistant professorship may be very unlikely to lead to tenure.
    – Buzz
    May 19 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


Faculty hiring in the US, like graduate admissions, is broad based, not focused on any single number like citation counts. Caltech is a private institution giving them a bit of extra leeway in who they hire.

I suspect that someone there convinced a large group of faculty that this person would be an especially good fit for the future of the university and wanted to get to the front of the line of the offers. Note that she will, in fact, be doing something like a postdoc at another highly prestigious place.

I think that the most we can learn is (a) she is exceptional in some way that we might not see and (b) exceptions are accounted for in the hiring process. It doesn't happen especially often, but it does.

There is a funny thing about citations. In order to cite a person you probably need to be somewhat close to their level, to understand and even extend their work. For a few people there are few peers capable of that, making citation counts a poor measure of the quality of the work. I can't say that is the case here (not my field), but I recognize the possibility. A "ground breaker" will change a field (read Einstein) but it will take a while before the mass of researchers catch up to the implications of some research.

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    I'd say they are quite well cited for a graduating PhD already, and in a hot and important field. Well deserved for them. Although I did vote to close as too personal...
    – Jon Custer
    May 19 at 20:22

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