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How easy or hard is it to get an academic job anywhere in Europe with an advanced degree from a US university?

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Hey everyone,

I noticed a trend were many American PhD grads from the Humanities and Social sciences move to Europe to take an academic job. For instance, I met a bunch of NYU students(Philosophy and Political science Phd's) who couldn't get a job in America but where able to move to Uppsala university and get an assistant professor tenure track job. I have also met another student who got a PHD in Psychology and moved to Tilburg University and another who works at Institut Jean Nicod. 

I wonder if this is relatively common for people who graduate with a phd from top 15 universities(bare in mind that its only 8 people per program and a lot of people drop out of their phd) or is it something rare that happens in exceptional cases. For instance, I'm currently getting my CELTA certificate and with it, it's easier to get jobs abroad(Asia) that it is in America so most people end up going abroad. 

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I'm no expert on the matter, but from my conversations with professors and looking at the demographics of faculty at universities I've attended, American PhDs seem to be far and away the most marketable in the world. This appears to be the case across disciplines. I can say that this is for sure the case in Canada. Most recently, I went to McGill, where the vast majority of faculty in the History department, and from what I know, the Philosophy and Political Science departments as well, have American PhDs. I suspect that this is because the graduate training is a) longer (which allows more time for development) and b) more comprehensive/rigorous. I'm sure that my b) is controversial, but for example, the History PhD at McGill involves no coursework--it's thesis only. No way that, on average, a student who completes a thesis-only PhD is going to be as prepared as one who has completed two or more years of coursework along with their thesis, even if the thesis-only student did a one or two year MA.

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It's surely not an odd thing for many American PhD grads to find opportunities in Europe and Asia. From what I saw, universities in China,Korea (among others) have been doing much to "internationalize" their programs by recruiting foreign PhDs. (You'll find quite a bit of news about that on google). You can look at the placement records of other US universities, and you will definitely see similar things happen elsewhere. 

It's also common to hear that US phds are quite marketable, though a lot also depends on the concrete hiring process (say publications, research focus, professional connections, departmental politics etc.) (You'll find many such discussions in this forum) In Europe, it seems that there is a bit more mobility for graduates from "lower-ranked uni's." 

In general, you could also keep in mind that the job market for humanities phds is one where you cannot always have your first choice, and you may consequently be building your career in places and sectors you'd not expect. 

 

On 7/2/2019 at 1:03 AM, bhabhafk said:

I'm no expert on the matter, but from my conversations with professors and looking at the demographics of faculty at universities I've attended, American PhDs seem to be far and away the most marketable in the world. This appears to be the case across disciplines. I can say that this is for sure the case in Canada. Most recently, I went to McGill, where the vast majority of faculty in the History department, and from what I know, the Philosophy and Political Science departments as well, have American PhDs. I suspect that this is because the graduate training is a) longer (which allows more time for development) and b) more comprehensive/rigorous. I'm sure that my b) is controversial, but for example, the History PhD at McGill involves no coursework--it's thesis only. No way that, on average, a student who completes a thesis-only PhD is going to be as prepared as one who has completed two or more years of coursework along with their thesis, even if the thesis-only student did a one or two year MA.

I second some parts of this answer for sure. I also feel that having rigorous coursework can help you not only as a scholar specifically, but as a social being in general. On whether US PhDs are "qualitatively" better than European ones, that's a whole other question. We're dealing with different academic cultures, so, for example, undergraduate students in Europe are (sometimes) much earlier trained in their discipline. Whereas in the States, it is not uncommon to see people switching between disciplines between undergrad and grad, for which the latter's coursework then becomes necessary to get some foundations. And much depends on the individual of course too: someone whose MA's work links neatly to a PhD project, wouldn't be necessarily worse off than her/his American counterpart.  

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On 7/1/2019 at 7:03 PM, bhabhafk said:

I'm no expert on the matter, but from my conversations with professors and looking at the demographics of faculty at universities I've attended, American PhDs seem to be far and away the most marketable in the world. This appears to be the case across disciplines. I can say that this is for sure the case in Canada. Most recently, I went to McGill, where the vast majority of faculty in the History department, and from what I know, the Philosophy and Political Science departments as well, have American PhDs. I suspect that this is because the graduate training is a) longer (which allows more time for development) and b) more comprehensive/rigorous. I'm sure that my b) is controversial, but for example, the History PhD at McGill involves no coursework--it's thesis only. No way that, on average, a student who completes a thesis-only PhD is going to be as prepared as one who has completed two or more years of coursework along with their thesis, even if the thesis-only student did a one or two year MA.

I wouldn't say that this is a) normal for Canadian PhDs or b) means that the programs are less rigorous. Most Canadians PhDs will have coursework but it is also usually the case that you need an MA before you start your PhD in Canada. It is very rare that someone enters a Canadian humanities PhD without an MA. Canada also has far, *far* fewer universities, especially top universities, so many tenure-track positions will be held by American PhDs. 

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12 hours ago, laine said:

I wouldn't say that this is a) normal for Canadian PhDs or b) means that the programs are less rigorous. Most Canadians PhDs will have coursework but it is also usually the case that you need an MA before you start your PhD in Canada. It is very rare that someone enters a Canadian humanities PhD without an MA. Canada also has far, *far* fewer universities, especially top universities, so many tenure-track positions will be held by American PhDs. 

On your first point: Yes, it's true that most Canadian PhD programs involve coursework, but it's usually only 1 year of coursework compared to the standard 2 in the states. Even though Canadian students typically have a coursework-heavy MA in hand, which their American counterparts do not, there is a difference between being a PhD student doing coursework and being an MA student and doing coursework.

On your second point: Yes, Canada has far fewer universities, but the amount of PhDs we produce is roughly proportional to the number of universities we have, relative to the population differences between Canada and the states. Canada produces enough PhDs to fill all their faculty positions, but American PhDs are sought after in the Canadian market, because they are often seen as better trained (this is what I have been told explicitly by my professors at McGill and McMaster). Of course, given equal resumes, a Canadian will often be picked over an America because of Canada-first policies, but that's a whole other thing.

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There are more PhD-granting institutions in the US than just about anywhere else, including more universities considered "tops" in the subfield rankings. These universities are older and better-established--especially within particular subfields--than many of their international competitors.This is almost certainly a big part of what's driving the high numbers of American PhDs outside the US (you'll notice that the non-American universities that make those rankings are also old, well-established, well-funded, etc.). It also goes some way towards explaining why so many people from outside the US pursue their doctoral studies there. Think of it as another case of the Matthew effect.

Also an instance of the Matthew effect: in a lot of disciplines (I suspect most, but I don't have the data to support the generalization), most of the jobs at research institutions and fancy undergraduate institutions go to graduates of the top-ranked programs. In my discipline, for example, just three programs account for around 33% of all placements into TT jobs in universities with PhD or MA programs in the English-speaking world

It's worth remembering, however, that jobs outside the US aren't consolation prizes, even for Americans. They're not just there for people who couldn't get a job in the US. Uppsala,Tillburg, and Jean Nicod, for example, are very prestigious universities, and foreigners applying to those jobs face some extra disadvantages when compared to citizens. Those people are more than capable of finding jobs in the US, but they took very good offers outside it instead. The academic job market in quite a lot of disciplines (most?) is pretty horrible, and basically comes down to how widely you apply, and how long you manage to stay on the market. People who can't find jobs in the US don't tend to go looking abroad as a second thought. The people applying for jobs abroad are probably usually among the strongest candidates in the pool.

 

On 7/15/2019 at 8:19 AM, PolPhil said:

On your first point: Yes, it's true that most Canadian PhD programs involve coursework, but it's usually only 1 year of coursework compared to the standard 2 in the states.

This just isn't a safe generalization to make. In my discipline, for example, only a few Canadian institutions offer only 1 year of coursework, and none offer 0; everyone else (including McGill) offers 2.

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15 hours ago, maxhgns said:

This just isn't a safe generalization to make. In my discipline, for example, only a few Canadian institutions offer only 1 year of coursework, and none offer 0; everyone else (including McGill) offers 2.

Fair enough. I'll keep my generalization to History and Political Science programs, with which I am familiar.

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On 8/15/2019 at 9:24 AM, maxhgns said:

There are more PhD-granting institutions in the US than just about anywhere else, including more universities considered "tops" in the subfield rankings. These universities are older and better-established--especially within particular subfields--than many of their international competitors.This is almost certainly a big part of what's driving the high numbers of American PhDs outside the US (you'll notice that the non-American universities that make those rankings are also old, well-established, well-funded, etc.). It also goes some way towards explaining why so many people from outside the US pursue their doctoral studies there. Think of it as another case of the Matthew effect.

Also an instance of the Matthew effect: in a lot of disciplines (I suspect most, but I don't have the data to support the generalization), most of the jobs at research institutions and fancy undergraduate institutions go to graduates of the top-ranked programs. In my discipline, for example, just three programs account for around 33% of all placements into TT jobs in universities with PhD or MA programs in the English-speaking world

It's worth remembering, however, that jobs outside the US aren't consolation prizes, even for Americans. They're not just there for people who couldn't get a job in the US. Uppsala,Tillburg, and Jean Nicod, for example, are very prestigious universities, and foreigners applying to those jobs face some extra disadvantages when compared to citizens. Those people are more than capable of finding jobs in the US, but they took very good offers outside it instead. The academic job market in quite a lot of disciplines (most?) is pretty horrible, and basically comes down to how widely you apply, and how long you manage to stay on the market. People who can't find jobs in the US don't tend to go looking abroad as a second thought. The people applying for jobs abroad are probably usually among the strongest candidates in the pool.

 

This just isn't a safe generalization to make. In my discipline, for example, only a few Canadian institutions offer only 1 year of coursework, and none offer 0; everyone else (including McGill) offers 2.

I think this can also be pretty field specific. There are for example quite some well-known physics schools in Europe; and some of the programs you mentioned are not well-known in all fields (or are necessary famous even within their respective countries; Tilburg would be considered far less prestigious than University of Amsterdam or Leiden respectively). 

I do notice that my American degree (I'm from Europe) allows me to develop certain (valuable) skills that are less of an emphasis in a European PhD. I also have access to certain resources that I would not have to the same extent in Europe (RA's; $$). This may also be field specific. 

So you do see that there are quite some Europeans who tend to get a European degree and then go back home, which certainly does not harm job opportunities for them (or in Europe in general, with regard to work permits and the like).

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