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Other Professor position in the USA after a PhD in Europe

  1. Oct 7, 2016 #1

    My question is probably geared towards the professors or postdocs reading this forum and concerns the recruitment aspect of the professors in the US.

    I am a European physics student currently visiting a "top" Californian university. During this short visit (8 months) I have come to realize that almost all the professors in the Area hold a PhD from a very narrow selection of top US university (I counted somewhere around 10 universities at most). And in the whole department few professors have done their PhD in Europe. In addition, very few of them are non-US citizens (although they might have acquired the US citizenship after such a long stay in the US).

    This is very intriguing for me as my home university in Europe has around 70% of foreign professors, and very few of them hold a PhD from the said university.

    I understand getting a tenure track position in the US is like getting drafted in the NBA and that one must be an excellent individual to reach such a position. However I was wondering how do the US universities recruit their professors. I know better universities tend to produce better professors, but this huge disparity is difficult to understand just in term of quality. Is there a cutoff selection based on where you do your PhD and citizenship or was this just chance ? For example, the postdoc seems to have less of an impact as the PhD in this matter.

    As a European citizen starting a Phd back in Europe this is a matter which interests me a lot. This could also be interesting for a US citizen doing a PhD in a "lower-ranked" university.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2016 #2
    A sample of one cannot provide much information from which to draw conclusions. Universities generally provide educational information of faculty on their website so you might start there.
  4. Oct 7, 2016 #3
  5. Oct 13, 2016 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Here's my experience- I've been on about 10 tenure-track faculty search committees (4 in my department, external member for the others) and a Dean search committee:

    There is little to no 'recruitment'- any ad will receive a sufficient number of applicants without any further action required on the part of the committee. Every faculty search I have been on, the department is looking for someone with a fairly specific set of research interests. If an applicant does not match all of the advertised criteria- in any capacity, large or small, the applicant does not make it to the 'long list'- the list of everyone meeting the minimum criteria. The fraction of applicants making it onto the 'long list' varies wildly- sometimes 50%, sometimes 20%, sometimes 80%. It all depends on what the department is looking for at that time. It has nothing/little to do with where the PhD or the postdoc/prior experience was from.

    Now, to get onto the short list- the list of interviewees- it somewhat matters where you are coming from. But that's not because of the name of the place,- it's the names in your research group. Everyone knows who are the most productive, visionary, interesting, FUNDED, etc. etc. If you are coming from a highly productive environment, you are more likely to be productive yourself. So really, in order to get on the short list, you need to have a record of productivity: accepted papers, funded proposals. That's how you get the interview.

    After that, you are on your own.
  6. Oct 13, 2016 #5


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    I'm sure there is some "recruitment" going on, at top-level schools for "star" faculty who have already established a reputation elsewhere. For example, I don't know how Martinus Veltman came to Michigan (from Utrecht) while I was a grad student there, but I highly doubt that he simply submitted an application for an advertised position.

    However, this sort of thing would be for senior professor-level positions. For a tenure-track assistant professor position, any school (even a bachelors-degree-only school with only a handful of physics faculty, like the one where I work) can easily get hundreds of applicants, as Andy noted.
  7. Oct 14, 2016 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    Right- we used a recruiting firm for the Dean search.
  8. Oct 18, 2016 #7
    The volume of students output by these schools over the past half century needs to also be taken into account; my undergrad didn't graduate a physics PhD student until the early 2000's, and is currently somewhere in the top 20-50 of American schools. Since they are so well funded and famous, the top schools still produce more students together than the bottom schools as far as I know.

    It's partly just a supply/demand problem too. Physics is contracting or stagnant, not undergoing a scientific boom like biology in general. It's easier to get into fancy schools for biology and its sub-disciplines (I should know, I just left a top ten comp bio program, and I still don't know how I got in to begin with), and lesser schools are soaking up plenty of money, implying that they will produce a larger share of future professors than we see in physics today.

    Finally good groups are to be found at many schools, but lower schools typically specialize in more applied science. As has already been mentioned, it's a lot easier to hire somebody from Joe Smith's group when you know Joe and that he does a good job of producing on all fronts, and if you're at a lower school, chances are Joe is also at a lower school, since you're both doing similar applied work. Thus I suspect that you have different social networks that are being drawn from, with overlap in the areas that the top schools dominate (i.e. theoretical high energy physics).
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