Suppose a student applies for PhD at a university and his application is replete with problems: average academic record, poor SOP, so-so recommendations, etc and he is rejected outright. He gets an admit at another university, does very good work and completes his doctorate successfully. Now he deems himself to be a fit for a faculty position at the university which rejected his PhD candidature.

Will his past mistakes come back to haunt him? Will the university dig up his PhD application and count this against his faculty application? Or will he be judged by his work during the course of the doctorate alone?

5 Answers 5


What was written down on an application years ago will generally not come back to haunt a faculty candidate later. However, actions that might have been taken on a faculty visit—or in later interactions with faculty members at a department—could have repercussions.

If the reputation that someone builds is being a person who "doesn't play well with others," that will be a tag that follows that individual for the rest of the career. It can make life a lot more difficult, because that person will have to work a lot harder and be a lot more successful than someone who is able to interact with current and potential future departmental colleagues in a civil and cordial manner.

But what's written in an application? Unless it's fraudulent, it shouldn't have a bearing on future ability to get hired somewhere.


I've never heard of this happening at all. Most people don't have that kind of memory, and even if they did, it's irrelevant. I know of at least one person who was

  • rejected from high rank school X for UG
  • rejected from X for grad school
  • got a faculty offer from X (and turned it down) :)

Speaking from direct, personal experience: NO. Once you're admitted to a PhD program, your undergraduate record effectively ceases to exist.(*)

First, professors' memories are just not that good. It's been five years since you were rejected, and we reject many hundreds of applicants every year. Why would we remember your application?

Second, at least in the US, rejected applications are probably destroyed/deleted a few months after all the decisions are made, to conform with federal privacy laws. So it's unlikely that anyone could dig up your old rejected application even if they wanted to.

Third, hiring decisions are being made by a different committee than admissions decisions, using very different standards. Graduate admissions committees are looking for strong research potential. Faculty recruiting committees are looking for strong research, with the potential for worldwide impact. If you've actually done good research, why should we care whether you looked like you might not have been ready to do good research five years ago?

(*) With one exception: Since I hit the job market, it's become much more common for deans to request undergraduate transcripts, presumably to check whether the candidate has the right academic experience for teaching. But I've never heard of a faculty candidate being rejected because they had a weak transcript.

  • I cannot understand deans asking for ug or even grad transcripts for a faculty job. Makes me wonder if they even have a clue
    – Suresh
    Mar 17, 2012 at 2:27
  • 1
    A note on the expiration of old data: it depends on country, in Canada it seems to not happen. I applied and was accepted to X for undergrad, but chose to go elsewhere. When I decided to apply for Masters, I applied and was accepted to X, but they still had my records from my undergrad application! It caused minor problems since my citizenship status had changed in the 4 years between applications. Apart from this bureaucratic stuff I don't think there was any other effects. Mar 17, 2012 at 4:58
  • Good point; edited to clarify.
    – JeffE
    Mar 17, 2012 at 6:55

Applicants who apply with poor credentials (low grades, no experience, etc.) are judged at the time of application based on their current credentials. Unless either them or the admissions committee does something exceptionally stupid during the interview process, the subsequent rejection/admission is simply a sign of how good of a fit the person is at that time. In the same way that a grad school application does not "guarantee" a future professorship post, a grad school rejection does not automatically imply automatic future rejection for other positions.


It could - if they learned that you committed fraud on your application, which could potentially reveal character problems down the road (and which is not easily forgivable).

Now, I had some pretty painful rejections from programs that had openly courted me pre-application, and they really hurt not only because I'm in a small field, but also particularly because I'm not the type of person who people easily forget - I was very possibly one of the most unusual applicants in the entire history of earth & planetary science graduate school admissions, and I intentionally made each of my applications extremely risky (stuffing as much information as I could humanely stuff into them, and taking great care to link them to all of my social media profiles), because I knew that I was fighting an uphill battle (due to my GPA and Attention Deficit Disorder). While it turned out to really help with Brown (where I got a top student fellowship too), it probably annoyed the hell out of most of the other schools.

But in the end, I think it will all be fine, because at worst - everything I did can be attributed to immaturity or poor judgment - all of which can be improved with time and with actual publications in the future.

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