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I am dithering between an NZ/Australia PhD, and the US/Canada one. Is it ever possible to teach in the US/Canadian universities with an NZ/Aus PhD?

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    The short answer to your question is "yes." Do you have reason to believe otherwise?
    – ff524
    Oct 26, 2015 at 8:21
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    We treat Ph.D. holders from the southern hemisphere the same as everyone else, once we've turned you right side up. Oct 26, 2015 at 10:58
  • @AndreasBlass lol - that is good to know
    – user41783
    Oct 26, 2015 at 11:04
  • I found that that (at least in my field, which is TESOL/Applied Linguistics) the US/Canadian Universities always prefer (actually it happens 99% of the time) people with an US/Canadian PhD or at least a UK PhD to fill in their tenure track faculty positions. Oct 27, 2015 at 6:49
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    @MohammadHaque Your arguments are the same for UK PhD as for ones from down under. They are NOT less rigorous than a US PhD (averaging on both sides). They are shorter because our schooling is (a bit) better and less broad, so students start with rather more specialist knowledge.
    – Jessica B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 7:24

2 Answers 2

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Australian Ph.D. programs tend to be shorter than American Ph.D. programs because their system is similar to that of the United Kingdom; I believe that New Zealand is much the same. This isn't "worse", just different. This sort of difference is familiar to many scholars, and there are no special barriers to Australia/New Zealand scientists getting faculty positions in the US or Canada. These days, of course, they will likely need to do a postdoc first, just like any other scientist.

A nice example of an Australian scientist who has done well in America is Rod Brooks, famous roboticist at MIT for many years before he headed out for greener pastures.

So why do you see so few Australians and New Zealanders in the US and Canada? Let's start with the simple fact that there aren't all that many around, period. Right now, there's about 24 million Australians and 4.5 million New Zealanders. By contrast, there are about 320 million Americans and 35 million Canadians. Thus, even if there were perfect mixing between the two countries there would be a pretty small percentage of Australians and New Zealanders in American and Canadian faculties. And of course, it's not perfect mixing: scientists are much more mobile than many other professions, but even scientists are most likely to stay in their home country, where their professional networks are strongest and where they are likely to have good personal reasons to stay as well. Put those together, and I would be surprised to see more than about 1% Australians in US faculties, no matter how good their education.

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  • Rod Brooks got his PhD in the USA so I'm not sure if he's a good example.
    – RoboKaren
    Apr 29, 2016 at 20:44
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It definitely is possible, but it is somewhat unusual for someone from Australia or New Zealand to get an academic career in the US after doing the PhD. From a New Zealand perspective, most of our famous scientists did their PhDs overseas. For example, the most famous New Zealand mathematician, Vaughan Jones, did his PhD overseas and never came back. So did the most famous New Zealand physicist, Earnest Rutherford. (It might be different in your field; I have no idea.)

A couple of reasons why a New Zealand PhD might make it difficult to get a job in the US later:

  • New Zealand academics tend to be working in niche areas because the opportunities for overseas collaboration are necessarily more limited. In a PhD here, unless you are really well-funded, you might get one trip to the US or Europe during your PhD, and several to Australia.

(As for people coming in the other direction, sometimes one of our universities will puff itself up because a famous person is coming to NZ to do a lecture tour, but really they are often just taking a paid vacation.)

  • As jakebeal says, our PhD is shorter.

  • It is very expensive for a US institution to bring you over for an interview. Even if universities claim that they don't take this into consideration, I am sure that they do.

So, if you have the chance to do a PhD in Aus/NZ, I would think carefully about it unless you have the chance to work with a real international celebrity, or unless you are happy spending the rest of your life down here if you are determined to remain in academia. Because it can be hard to escape.

My current boss did a PhD in New Zealand and he said that he wouldn't have done it if he had been planning to stay in academia, even though he was at one of the best departments in his field. Furthermore, if you look at the profiles of academics in Aus and NZ, you will find that many of them have PhDs from Europe and the US too. So even here, a PhD from NZ is considered somewhat inferior. I remember when I was asking for PhD advice as an undergrad, everyone strongly encouraged me to go overseas. (It's not like you can't return later!)

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