I'm currently studying for a bachelor's degree in physics and computer science in Israel, after which I will enroll into the military (due to Israel having mandatory military service). I will most likely find a position that uses my physics degree quite a bit, and gives me a good deal of experience in applied physics as well as some research, perhaps.

How will my service in the Israeli military affect my chances of getting a PhD/Master's? In Israel it is of course no concern, and I'm more interested in how it can affect my application in other parts of the world, mainly the US and Europe. Again, I will most likely gain a good deal of experience in physics from my service, which is on paper a good thing.

I'm obviously making this post while ignoring the elephant in the room. I'm not looking for your opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'm looking for an answer to my question.

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    Please note the controversial banner above. Any comments or answers that are not strictly responsive will be deleted.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 6 at 18:35

5 Answers 5


There are places, of course, that will discriminate against you whether you have army service or not. But it won't be an issue in most of the world, including Europe, US, Australia, etc. And, I assume you won't apply in the obviously problematic countries

You might find individuals who look down on you, given the world situation, but not everyone will be like that. And, there are people who look down on others for lots of reasons, so it can't be escaped.

While the war is a terrible thing, it isn't your fault, personally. And, as you say, service is mandatory.

Hope for early peace, of course, for lots of reasons.

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    – cag51
    Commented Apr 7 at 23:35

No. Most physics programs will not care at all. There is a longstanding "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" anti-Israel movement in universities (which is irrelevant to admissions), but it seems my physics colleagues have never heard of it.

The many Jewish-American physics faculty also are not going to be biased in either direction.

  • This is the crucial answer. As far as the US goes, the Jewish-American faculty will likely oppose this kind of discrimination. Other than that, the admission process is non-transparent and therefore malleable.
    – yujaiyu
    Commented Apr 9 at 15:56
  • There are also a significant fraction of faculty which have had undertaken mandatory military service and understand the situation. This includes many US baby boomers who were subject to the draft in 64-73, Germany (until 2011), South Korea, Singapore, Russia, Finland, Sweden, etc. Personally, my advisor had to serve in the US Air Force, one guy we worked with got into teaching due to his service in the Korean War, and my brother's advisor served in the Wehrmacht.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 9 at 18:51

From my experience, however, MINT (or STEM) topics, including physics, are nowadays relatively indifferent to political developments, as far as they are not concerning legal constraints on citizens from non-friendly countries in security-relevant domains (such political indifference was not always the case, e.g. in the 70s, where antinuclear movements were strongly felt across especially physics departments). Chances are that your prospects to find a PhD will be pretty unaffected, assuming that your resume is strong.

People with practical experience (whether being in the software industry or army) have an additional advantage in terms of maturity and experience to students that never left academia.

On the legal side, we cannot foresee what sanctions, if at all, the UN may decide to put in place on people serving in the army. So, this response can not address that.

As for general discrimination that might affect your general life as a consequence of your service, here, again, nobody can predict the future. The 30s saw first disorganized attacks, then organized brutal repression of the "wrong" academics in Germany, for essentially confabulated reasons. Assuming you would not fall afoul of any laws, in a functioning Western democracy, one would expect that a government will protect its residents - and that would include a foreign student - against threats and violence.

Theory and practice may differ, and, in these unstable times, discrepancies may be more pronounced that they would be in quieter times. This means that you will have to read the room (or rather, the map) once your time to search for the PhD abroad comes.

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    Factually wrong. For instance, Iranian students cannot participate in chip-related research funded by some US bodies. Even when funding does not come from there, the bias in this area of research is the norm. Russian students have been heavily discriminated against for decades, as early in the process as obtaining a student visa.
    – yujaiyu
    Commented Apr 9 at 15:41
  • @yujaiyu What you talk about is legal/security-level discrimination. As such, I didn't include it, because it is neither individual, or institute-specific; nor is it likely relevant for OP for the countries they seem to envisage. I don't think that their security level is going to drastically change compared to now. Probably OP won't achieve Five-Eyes level security clearance, but would qualify for regular western foreigner clearance level. As such, I do not believe that your comment applies here, as the countries you list have a non-friendly to adversarial relation to Western countries. Commented Apr 9 at 16:25
  • @yujaiyu And, as you mention chips, OP's country has one of the main chip design industries in the world, with heavy US involvement. Clearly, a completely different situation than the one you mention. Commented Apr 9 at 16:30
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    And therefore "[...] MINT (or STEM) topics, including physics, are nowadays relatively indifferent to political developments" is factually wrong. Please amend.
    – yujaiyu
    Commented Apr 9 at 19:01
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    It is a matter of fact, not agreement. National Origin Discrimination is well understood and regulated under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Please refer to eeoc.gov/national-origin-discrimination.
    – yujaiyu
    Commented Apr 9 at 20:44

Probably don't mention it to be safe.

You got an undergraduate degree, you spent a few years working, and now you want to get a postgraduate degree. It's not that uncommon for life to get in the way and for mature-age students to go back to university years some time after they finished their undergraduate degrees.

Maybe just don't mention that you were working for the Israeli military in your application unless you're specifically asked about it. While not everybody is prejudiced against Israel, there is a significant "Boycott, divestment, and sanctions" movement within academia that opposes the current Zionist state of Israel, and if an academic who belongs to that movement is judging your application, including that you were an Israeli soldier could lead to them finding an excuse to reject you.

An exception, perhaps, would be if your work for the military would be directly relevant to the work you'd be doing for your degree. For example, if you're a military drone pilot, and you're applying for a position at a lab that studies drone airspace management, you might want to mention it.

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    You can choose not to mention it, but that won't work. It is fairly common knowledge that Israel has a conscription army. So it does not take a genius to figure out what happened when someone in Israel has a blank spot in his CV in that age range. Moreover, blank spots in CVs attract more attention than just saying that you did what the law required you to do. Commented Apr 7 at 8:14
  • @MaartenBuis Draft dodgers are a thing that exists, and they probably wouldn't want to admit to it in writing.
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 7 at 20:55
  • I don't understand: does your comment mean that not mentioning his service would suggest that he is a draft dodger? That is certainly not how I would read that CV. Commented Apr 8 at 7:30
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    @MaartenBuis No, not mentioning it would leave it ambiguous. It would not confirm nor deny that they served their draft.
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 8 at 20:57
  • It's almost instinctive. You see a CV from Israel, South Korea, or Singapore, and you expect them to be slightly older due to mandatory service. For a while, Germany was on the list. The Nordics and Eastern Europe are the ones that you have to look up.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 9 at 18:55

Just adding that although I don't think it will affect your chances of admission, you might have trouble with the authorities. It might be more difficult and more troublesome for you to obtain a student visa if you'd served during a war - you'd probably have to explain yourself. If your future research could involve dual-use technology (or just research funded by military-related agencies), especially nuclear technology, there is a slight chance that there would be some trouble.

Is it likely? I don't think so (unless you are personally involved in questionable or outright wrong acts, that is). Is it possible? We have no way to know; it would depend on issues of international politics that is far beyond our control. But Chinese students have been denied visas just because the universities they've received their degrees from have connections with the military - so I don't think one could rule this possibility out.

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