Some research groups, especially the ones at lower tier schools in the United States, contains an excessive amount of students who have the same nationality as the professor. Some Chinese professors' groups solely consists of Chinese students.

Does this go against diversity, considering the fact that Ph.D admissions are not centralized and is not done by adcom members? Is there a constraint on this implied by school to faculty?

  • 7
    I'm not sure there's an answerable question here.
    – Suresh
    Oct 26, 2012 at 18:34
  • Is there a constraint on this implied by school to faculty ?
    – sincanli
    Oct 26, 2012 at 18:51

3 Answers 3


I'm a PhD student based in Sweden, working in a group where everybody except the PhD students are German. Another group in the same building has several Russians, and a recent Russian PhD student had a Russian supervisor. So the tendency to mono-culturalism is not unique.

Probably, many institutes have statements promoting diversity. In practice, these don't mean much, because recruitment depends on academic networks, skills of applicants, etc. There can be different reasons for a group to tend to mono-culturalism. Some reasons I can think of:

  • A professor heading a research group in a foreign country probably has an extensive academic network from his/her originating country. Academic networks are powerful sources of recruitment of new staff, either senior staff or PhD students (e.g. via a Master thesis supervisor recommending them). So applicants might simply be more likely to be from the same country as the head of the group, even if the head of the group is 100% honest in his/her selections.

  • PhD students may appreciate if they can work with a supervisor that speaks their language, particularly if they are not so comfortable speaking English.

  • It's culturally easier to work in a group with several people from ones own country.

All these factors can contribute to groups in country X with group members primarily from country Y != X.

Probably there are other reasons that I didn't think of.

  • 1
    +1 especially for the networking issue. @sincenali, perhaps you can ask students how they learned about their current advisor; very likely the answer will be networking-like. (BTW: For me it's the case - I have advisor of the same nationality and we met each other due to a recommendation by a professor both of us knew.) Oct 26, 2012 at 22:09

As a faculty member, one of the most challenging things to do is find high-quality people to work in your lab. Faculty generally will use every trick they can to find good people, including asking friends, colleagues, talking to people at conferences, and so on.

If the faculty member is more comfortable in a certain language (e.g. if they find it easier to evaluate a candidate who speaks Hungarian than English), or does not have an ethnically diverse set of colleagues/friends in their field, then you quickly get a non-diverse lab.

There usually isn't any bias or prejudice going on here; it's just terribly important to get your students right, so many people will not feel like they can go out of their way to promote diversity.


I think the fundamental issue is not that the groups go against the principle of diversity, but that they're just too small to speak meaningfully about diversity. A population of three to six graduate students is not large enough to make claims that they are or are not diverse enough. Even if they all come from the same country, there may be other forces at work. For instance, those students might be the ones who get "matched" into the group—they list that group as their highest priority, and others don't.

However, in general, there are no constraints placed by a university or a department on which students a faculty member can or cannot take. There may be limits and restrictions that determine if a faculty member can take students, or how many, but never have I heard a restriction about which ones.

  • On the topic of sample size: (1) I've seen similar effects in groups/labs with 20+ students. (2) I've also seen similar effects lasting through several "generations" of students. For example, almost half of my current and former PhD students were born in the US!
    – JeffE
    Oct 27, 2012 at 10:23

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