I'm applying for PhD programs and I'm thinking about what I'll do afterward. Specifically, I did my undergraduate in a well-respected US university and am applying to similar tier universities for a PhD in a STEM field.

From my undergraduate experience I know I like teaching and research- so I'm thinking of trying to go into Academia and be a professor. Turns out this is really competitive. It also turns out you don't get a lot of flexibility about where you live, which is quite important to me.

So I had a thought: what about trying to be a Professor in a developing country? I spent most of my childhood in a developing country and helping to improve education/opportunities in developing countries is something I've cared about for a while. Also, I'm not a US citizen, and I've spent little time living in the EU country I am a citizen of, so have fewer ties to the Western world than some.

So question 1: How easy is it to become a Professor in a developing country having a STEM PhD from a US university?

And since that question is quite broad, I'll say regions I'm interested in: Sub-Saharan Africa, China (if that's still considered a developing country), Indonesia.

Question 2: After getting in, what issues is one likely to have? (Academic culture, still being able to work competitively in interesting/cutting edge research, funding, etc). Especially if people have experiences of going from the US/EU to be professors in STEM fields in the aforementioned regions I'd be interested to hear about them.

Note: I am aware of this similar question but it seems to be more about short-term programs rather than becoming a longer-term professor.

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    I can't write a full answer but I do have one comment to share. I think it would be helpful in the long run if you had some good collaborations and networking set up with several groups in the developed world before starting. Even better if you can set up a formal relationship between two departments. The ideal situation is if a relationship exists such that you can invite some people to your department to give workshops, etc., and send some advanced students to the other department for visiting student stints. Because there is a danger of becoming isolated. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:07
  • I cannot help but wonder why you are interested in such diverse set of regions. I know some postdocs that have gone to South America, in particular, Ecuador... which BTW gives a hint about your question 2: language.
    – Miguel
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 19:59
  • @Miguel well he wants to work anywhere that is high demand of highly skilled...problem is that region is too broad and I am afraid there will not be good answer
    – SSimon
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 15:08
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    Have you considered that without academic network it is hard to get a job anywhere, especially in countries which are khm less famous for meritocracy/ may have strong preference to hire local citizens?
    – Greg
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 7:56
  • @Greg why you assume that China Iran, and others dont have merit based systems?
    – SSimon
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 3:25

2 Answers 2


There are two distinct circumstances that occur in regard to your question. Either A) the developing country is your home country (or a country that you once lived in) or B) it is a country you have not been extensively to. This will, I believe, affect the outcome. I'll try to answer for the two cases in my experience (and from what I have seen / heard from friends who went back to North Africa/Middle East/China)

Q1 : STEM Ph.D. from the US, especially if they arise from a good university or research group, are generally well seen outside of the US and, more specifically, in developing country or in China. As such, if there are position available in that country, when applying your candidacy has high chances to be considered. However, for that, there has to be positions available. Some countries are really low on budget for academia and as such do not hire as many professors in research/teaching position, but mostly solely on teaching positions. If a position is available, you have good chance if you know the custom (language, culture, etc.) of the country where you would like to work. However, position opportunities might be more rare.

Q2: I can only speak from experience of friends. However, what I have seen is that in some developing countries, professors at university have a much higher teaching workload than in the US, they have less funds and they have less opportunities to hire/pay international Ph.D. students. Therefore, it can greatly affect your capacity to do research because A) you have less time/money to dedicate to it and B) it's harder to find students.

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    I need to add that some countries (almost all) require NOSTRIFICATION procedure, even if you finished OXFORD or HARVARD: please keep that in Mind
    – SSimon
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 4:34

My first suggestion would be this: you are still to embark on your PhD in a STEM field. A PhD is a long term affair and your career goals can change over time. So it might be good to think about these issues a couple of years into your PhD. During your PhD itself, you will face many issues---are you in the right department? Are you happy with your advisor/group? Do you like your research problem, etc.

Coming to moving to a developing country, I think it is best to attend conferences in your country of choice to first get a good idea of what the academic culture is like in that particular country. There are two issues here: (a) The culture of the country and (b) academic culture in that country.

You will need to familiarise yourself with both of these.

Also, just because you have a PhD from a good university in the US, does not automatically make you a sought after candidate. Often, hiring institutions in developing countries will look at your familiarity with the local language and culture. They might prefer to hire someone from their own country who has gone abroad to get a PhD and wishes to return. Or they may often hire someone from their own institutions.

Overall, I would suggest focussing on your PhD, publishing enough so that you are competitive, and keeping yourself well informed about your goals.

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