Is it true that if you get PhD from an institution, then it becomes very hard to become a tenure track faculty position at the same institution?

  • 7
    Depends from institution to institution. Go look at the background of many MIT professors - that will show you it is possible. Other places less so.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 31, 2017 at 13:08
  • 9
    When it does happen, the faculty member has most commonly spent some time elsewhere after the PhD and before returning to a faculty position. Mar 31, 2017 at 14:35
  • 3
    In which country? If the country is small, there might only be one institution with a given subfield, and they probably don't want to discriminate against candidates from their own country. Apr 2, 2017 at 1:31
  • While in North America, it will Mexico/Canada for instance because the US is pretty competitive. Apr 3, 2017 at 4:51
  • Here it's a bit frowned upon. Obviously some professors even fear a local candidate would have too detailed knowledge about their shortcomings, or even might be part of some local allegiance structure ;)
    – jvb
    May 5, 2019 at 10:30

3 Answers 3


In theory, anyway, academia is very much like human biology: inbreeding and incest ought to be avoided because drawing from such a small pool of genes and backgrounds is likely to cause problems. Mixing it up benefits any area of inquiry: people whose training was from a diversity of institutions/supervisors/influences bring in new ideas and frameworks, and can keep a line of research from unwittingly falling into a rut when it comes to the lines of analysis being used.

Sometimes Ph.D. graduates of an institution are brought in out of necessity. If a department wants to hire a second faculty member in a very, very small subfield, for instance, the pool of applicants is likely to include a lot of Ph.D. graduates who worked under the first. That's pretty inevitable. This is, to extend the analogy, as if the human population has been reduced to 10 or 20 people and most of them are relatives. If there's no other choice, marrying cousins and siblings has to be done.

But those cases are the exception, in my experience. Within my field there are 3 or 4 departments in North America that have become notorious between 2009 and the present day for heavily favoring their own Ph.D. graduates (to the point where if the shortlist gets leaked, you can predict who's going to get the position from that and the job talks have only a small effect). It makes sense that departments want to look out for their own, and it also makes sense that if a department already has a good sense of someone being impressive, that's difficult for an outsider to challenge. But to return to the analogy, it's like marrying a pair of siblings to each other because they're both looking for a partner and already know each other and get along. In both cases, people will talk. In both cases, a reputation will be earned that is not good. The last time one of the 3 or 4 departments in question was looking for a new tenure-track faculty member and someone from the department anonymously shared the shortlist with a bunch of mailing lists, one of my colleagues made an extremely cynical, almost mean-spirited prediction that made me shake my head at the time and then ended up being entirely accurate.

So yes, it is absolutely possible for someone to end up working at the institution where they did their Ph.D.; but unless there are extenuating circumstances, people are likely to think less of the department in question for hiring its own. It benefits every department not to default to someone they already like and someone whose ideas are comfortable and familiar to them.


The big problem here is that you were trained by your adviser, and your adviser is already a tenure-track professor at your own institution. It's very likely that from a departmental point of view you're just going to replicate your adviser's expertise.

Typically a department sees a new hire as a chance to incorporate new skills or new ideas so they can broaden what kinds of courses and research they can do.

I personally know of one person who was hired by their own PhD institution, and it just so happened that he was graduating as his adviser was leaving, so he took his adviser's role in the department.


It's certainly possible - at my PhD institution, at least two faculty members who got their degree have returned to tenure track positions, and at least one subsequently was tenured. As others have noted however, they both spent time at other institutions as well before returning.

Whether it is likely or not will very much depend on the policies of both the university and the department in question.

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