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I am currently a 2nd year PhD student studying PDE at a big state University. I am extremely stressed by the competitiveness in academic careers noticing most people can only land a job after prestigious PhD program and postdoc positions (say top 10).

I am trying to figure out how competitive it is to land a tenure position job at not-top-tier Universities (tiers refer to AMS group).

Say for AMS Group II-III Universities, is it also very competitive and requiring great research work with good postdoc positions? If there's little hope in finding careers in academia, can people suggest other less competitive areas where I could land a job still doing PDEs say without switching to tech or finance (which are also very competitive)?

  • 4
    Note: just doing a PhD and post-doc at a top university is not enough to get a tenure track position. You will also have to have top level publications and ideally bring a grant.
    – lordy
    Mar 15, 2023 at 15:28
  • 2
    I have two exercises for you: 1) Compute how many PhD graduates a single professor will 'produce' during their academic life-time in your field and compare it against how many positions will open when a professor retires. 2) Pick one of the departments you are interested in and look at the CVs and career paths of their current faculty (with particular emphasis on recent hires). This does not fully answer your question, but it's always important to set some baseline expectations. Best of luck!! Mar 15, 2023 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


Yes, you will find competition at all of those (and other) "levels", whether by AMS or other standards. However, the nature of the competition is different. At the "lower" levels, it is likely that teaching is much more important a consideration than at the higher levels, even though those universities have a doctoral program. If it is primarily research that you want to do then you will need to deal with that.

However, you can make a career at even a Group M or B university if you are willing to teach more than research. Research is still possible and valued at such places but may have less "natural" support and you will need to seek most collaborations elsewhere unless the faculty is large.

But high levels of competition is a feature of the modern world. It may get worse, actually, if fewer young people go to university, as the recent news seems to suggest. There are still a lot of folks like yourself in the pipeline.

And, all those Group 2 and 3 schools are also producing new PhD graduates.

I was originally caught up in a very similar situation and it took a lot of effort to build an academic career.

  • I agree with this. For a bit of additional context, in a group M university, you can still expect that there will be 100+ applicants for any position, with at least 30-50 who would probably be great hires with good research papers and good prior teaching evaluations. The ultimate pay might be around what a high school teacher would make.
    – Dawn
    Mar 15, 2023 at 16:19
  • @Dawn, either you are paid terribly or your local high school teachers are far above the median. Your "ultimate" pay after several years service in the US at a Group M place might be above 200K. High school teachers (now) are lucky to earn 60K - with experience, I think. Probably you are too pessimistic on pay. But yes, a lot of applicants.
    – Buffy
    Mar 15, 2023 at 16:31
  • 1
    It is likely due to the fact that the public schools are unionized and the university is not. The HS teachers with graduate degrees here make similar to the private university faculty for the same years of experience, except for business school and maybe a couple of other specific departments (perhaps math is one, but I don't think so based on my conversations).
    – Dawn
    Mar 15, 2023 at 16:44
  • 1
    Some of this seems technically correct but misleading. Yes, teaching is somewhat more important at Florida State than Princeton, but is certainly not a much more important consideration when hiring. Essentially all of the "Group II" and many "Group III" universities in the linked tables are research universities and evaluate faculty candidates primarily on research.
    – user137975
    Mar 16, 2023 at 0:25

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