I am an EU citizen, and 27 years old. I completed my Bachelor's and Master's in Electrical Engineering in the UK, now finishing up my PhD (in EE as well) in the USA.

I am currently applying for postdoc positions everywhere (EU and USA). I have, for the most part, adapted to life in the USA over the four years that I've been here. However, I am motivated by the idea of doing a postdoc in Europe, partly because I believe the overall culture there suits my personality more, and partly because all of my family is there too. I also want to experience the European way of conducting research (since a Master's in the UK didn't really involve all that much research).

My question is: now that I am still in the USA, and can get a work permit for 2 or so years easily, I am thinking that it would be a good chance to stay a bit longer and experience a postdoc here instead.

In general, I am quite adaptable and I don't have too many set expectations. I just want to conduct interesting research and have a somewhat decent social life to keep some sort of a balance. Money is not really an issue. Also, although I do not like to plan too much into the future (because you never really know what happens), I guess being considerate of the opportunities/prospects a position can offer in the future is healthy.

Given this information, what do you are the pros and cons of Europe vs. USA for a postdoc? Answers to this question probably require some over-generalizing, so I apologize in advance for that.

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    One person told me that he thought it was better to do your postdoc in the USA because americans write more positively worded letters of recommendation. I would be curious to hear if people think this is true. Oct 23, 2014 at 0:18
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    I would also be curious about people's experience with switching between USA and Europe and then trying to switch back again. Oct 23, 2014 at 0:18
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    What is your ultimate career goal? Oct 23, 2014 at 15:27
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    Right now I am considering the possibility of being a professor in the future, but that might change depending on my postdoc experience. But I definitely want to do research, whether that's in a university/research institute/lab.
    – sigma
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:58
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    While this does not directly answer your question, I think that you should aim for the very best university where you can get a postdoc, be it in Europe or US, and go for there if you get it -- this is likely to benefit your career (and, in the short run, your CV) most. Nov 5, 2014 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


Let me list a few pros of doing postdoc in the US:

  • In many EU countries a postdoc in the US is considered to be more prestigious than a postdoc in Europe (assuming that the places you do the postdoc in the US and Europe are at roughly the same level), so a postdoc in the US is in general not likely to harm your academic career should you eventually decide to return to Europe
  • If you give staying in the US a really serious thought, the postdoc in the US allows you to initiate the application for green card; getting the latter will give you unrestricted access to the job market in the US (academic or otherwise), in addition to the EU one, which comes in handy on many occasions.
  • Given that you have your Ph.D. (and hence the largest part of your academic network) in the US, you have somewhat better odds at succeeding in securing a postdoc in the US (e.g. because the US people you will apply to are in general more likely to know your advisor than people in Europe, and the people in the US will be less hesitant to, say, give a phone call to the authors of your recommendation letters to find out additional details if need be).
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    It would be interesting to read more on the first point. Can you provide sources or additional reading?
    – Tommi
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:34
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    I disagree that "a postdoc in the US is considered to be more prestigious than a postdoc in Europe" in many EU countries. Maybe in some.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 10, 2019 at 22:35

I would also like to add some aspects of choosing between US and EU groups as a postdoc. I have obtained two postdoc offers (in experimental physics) from both a European institute and a US university. They are both well-known in our field. When I was making the decision, I considered the following aspects:

Research style: In Europe, the research projects seem to be more task-driven while there might be more freedom on studying unexpected phenomena in the US. Moreover, US researchers' style might be more "hands-on" than EU. Especially in experimental physics, you may have to fix a broken equipment or solder a circuit by yourself in the US. However, in EU, a team of technicians will take care of all the maintenance and refinement of the equipments. You do not have to know how to build a measurement setup as long as you know how to take data. As such, you may publish faster in EU. However, if your future goal is to be a faculty that you will ultimately set up your own lab, the "all by yourself" experience in the US may be a plus.

Funding: Research funding situation in EU may be better than the US, at least it is stably increasing but it strongly depends on fields and supervisors.

Group Culture: The European groups are usually huge that you might be just one among 30+ researchers/PhD students. It may require much more effort to take more responsibility in such a huge group and get noticed by the famous PI and even a good recommendation letter from the PI. In the US, the group sizes vary a lot. In most cases, you will be one out of zero to three postdocs. You are expected to have more responsibility like mentoring students, writing grant proposals and thinking new research plans, etc.

  • It was a huge group in Netherlands. I don't have working experience in EU so it was just my impression mostly gained from my visit and two of my friends who are working in that group. I might be wrong for some other part of Europe. Sorry...
    – ming56
    Sep 17, 2018 at 20:01
  • @ming56 For what it's worth, my impression as a theorist in physics is that technicians handle some experimental setups in the US too. It seems to come down to different research groups with different cultures, or the scale of the experiment.
    – Anyon
    Sep 17, 2018 at 22:54
  • @Anyon I agree with your point. My numbers of samples of US and EU groups may not be enough to conclude these.
    – ming56
    Sep 18, 2018 at 3:20
  • @ming56 There are certainly some differences though. I know people who ended up taking ~10 years to graduate with a PhD because they had to build an experimental setup, get it to work, get data, and publish something. Even if you discount 2 years for the Masters degree, that time frame just would not fly in Europe, which is probably for the better.
    – Anyon
    Sep 18, 2018 at 14:30

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