I am a full professor of chemistry from Iran. I want to move to the United States. I have a good record of publications, teaching, executive positions, conference participation, etc.

However, as I applied for full professor position, I was not successful. Apparently, my credentials are equal to successful candidates or even better (I checked with the names announced), but their works were in the same country.

I do not care to apply for an assistant/associate professor position, but the requirements are different. They expect young people to start.

What can be a promising pathway for me to enter the US higher education?

Is it actually possible? Can a professor from a developing country find a place in the US higher education?

  • I edited to remove a single reference to the UK, since you mention the US three times, but the UK only once. I assume that answers for the UK might be appreciably different, apart from the "applying for full professorships is always hard" part. Please feel free to roll back my edit. Apr 21, 2015 at 18:13
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    Try to get personally known in the states--use a sabbatical or start collaborations where you can get invited to stay in the US for a few months. Having personal recommendations from US-based faculty should be useful.
    – mkennedy
    Apr 21, 2015 at 18:26
  • At least in the UK, employers are required to employ British/EU citizens over foreigners; and only employ from abroad if skilled staff cannot be found domestically. Maybe this was why similarly skilled applicants were successful over you; but this is just speculation. Apr 21, 2015 at 21:02
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    When you say "my credentials are equal", how do you determine that? Your idea of "credentials" may be very different from that of the position search committee. Have you taught in English? Did you publish in exact same American journals? What kind of funding did you get? It's very unlikely that you have any record whatsoever of NSF funding, for one thing; and without a record of being eventually able to bring enough money to fund the lab that will be a part of your startup package, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, yours is a losing proposition to the university.
    – StasK
    Apr 22, 2015 at 14:27

3 Answers 3


Short answer: Yes, a professor from a developing country can find employment.

Longer answer: It's hard for anyone to get a position as a full professor. It's likely to be harder if you are from another country.

"I applied for full professor position, I was not successful." Many, many people apply for full professorship positions. Most of them are not successful. There are many reasons you didn't get offered the position.

One of the reasons may have been that there would be more hassle to do the necessary paperwork for immigration purposes. Not all universities will do this.

The main reason was that there was someone that the appointing committee liked more.

You might ask for feedback about why you weren't offered the position, but the university might not be forthcoming.

The big hurdle that I think you are going to have is fear from the university. If they appoint someone and they turn out to be unsuccessful, they have a problem on their hands. Removing a full professor is difficult. Someone they know (or know of, through contacts) is always going to be a safer bet than someone who they don't know. (I read somewhere recently, and I can't think where that assistant professors are appointed because of hope - the hope that they will do well. Full professors are appointed through fear - the fear that they won't turn out to be a disaster for the university).

I would have two pieces of advice: (1) Keep applying, and seek feedback about your application. (2) Don't be too fussy about the position; if you are in the country and have a job, it will (I think) be easier to get a different job.

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    OP is from a Iran. Does it matter that the country he is from is under sanctions?
    – Taemyr
    Apr 22, 2015 at 7:43
  • I know Iranians that are employed in the US. Apr 22, 2015 at 13:48
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    In research? On subjects that might be covered by ITAR? Also I am sure it's possible, I am however not sure that it's easy for the institution to be sure they comply with relevant laws.
    – Taemyr
    Apr 22, 2015 at 13:59
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    If their research is relevant to defense then that obviously will be an issue. But most isn't. Apr 22, 2015 at 14:01
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    Yes, but he is talking about other applicants with very similar skill sets and experience. From my understanding, at least if the laws are working as designed, he will always lose out to natives with skill levels close to his own.
    – Jonathon
    Apr 23, 2015 at 20:23

My spontaneous thought when seeing your question was whether you had considered a visiting position as well. The barriers for a non-permanent position are naturally lower. I've seen cases where this happened in a different field in Zurich, where a Russian Academy of Science member was a semi-permanent guest (this was a long while back after the borders had just opened, and so it somewhat compares). It comes with risks and possible frustration: the person I have in mind - a distinguished academic in his home country, advanced in age (mid 50s), and highly intelligent - relied on continued good will; the resulting feeling sometimes showed. While there is never a guarantee that this translates - somewhere in your target country - to a permanent position, at least you'd have your foot in the door.

I also remembered a quote from my old Latin teacher: connections only hurt those that don't have them. Iranians have a sizable presence in the US - both from before and after the revolution. Many are highly successful and accomplished, and to further their goals, associations exist. By its name, the association of Iranian-American Academics and Professionals sounds like a fit (and if not, there are others). I'd consider reaching out to them for advice too. Maybe they can set you up with someone who has the same story, and is willing to mentor you.

Given the current political situation, I don't know if any of the above raises additional issues for you. You'll only know after you tried.

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    I would say that given the general climate of "diversity and inclusiveness", being an Iranian would be generally a major plus in any hiring decisions. Especially given the current domestic political situation (where the political ideology controlling most of HR and academia is on the opposite side of the political situation you seem to be referring to )
    – DVK
    Apr 21, 2015 at 20:45
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    @DVK: That assumption is false, as Iran is considered a "sensitive country" in the US, and therefore a number of research funding streams would be closed off as a result.
    – aeismail
    Apr 21, 2015 at 21:10
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    @aeismail - unless the OP is in one of the fairly small # of fields that are constituting weapons research, OR have classified-on-US-side applications, that's extremely unlikely. Being in chemistry, not impossible. But they didn't specify their precise research area.
    – DVK
    Apr 21, 2015 at 22:18
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    @DVK Certainly what you say is wrong in my experience. For one thing, Asians (I understand that Iranians and Chinese don't have a ton in common, but these are the buckets that are used) are certainly not underrepresented in science and thus typically "don't count" as minorities for these purposes. Apr 22, 2015 at 1:56
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    @DVK I am not too sure Iranian non-American citizen is counted as minority. The OP did not specify if he is American citizen. If he is, I believe you are right. If not, an Iranian would be generally a major plus in any hiring decisions. is probably not a true statement.
    – Nobody
    Apr 22, 2015 at 5:52

What can be a promising pathway for me to enter the US higher education?

You mentioned "a good record of publications, teaching, executive positions, conference participation" but didn't offer any details.

One possible approach likely to help is to co-research and co-publish with US academia members, ideally from schools you are interested in.

If they come out of the collaboration impressed with you, they can serve as local advocates with their institution for you. A publication might carry less weight than a personal recommendation from a colleague they personally know who can describe the work you did for that publication, in most situations - and would to the hiring committee as well.

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