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ThePomoHipster

Canadian vs. American Schools

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As a Canadian, I am applying to both Canadian and American universities for my PhD in English. I am also completely devastated by the American election results. The main reason I applied to American schools and strongly considered them over Canadian schools is because I have heard time and time again about how degrees from the top American universities give people a much higher chance to get a tenure-track job afterwards compared to even the highest ranking Canadian schools (i.e. the University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, etc.). I honestly feel very strongly opposed to going to an American school now that these election results have come in. My question is how true is the notion that all Canadian schools are second-tier (even the best ones) in relation to the best American ones? Is it really that much harder to get a job after getting a PhD from a Canadian university (personal experiences are encouraged for this question)? Is it still worth it for me to potentially choose an American school due to its prestige when I really don't feel safe about that decision?

I know that it's way too early in the application season to be asking these questions, but any advice would be greatly appreciated. This is also not an invitation to have political debates about Trump's victory. I simply mentioned it to emphasize that I do not feel safe going to that country anymore. My question is really just whether it is still worth it to suck it up and potentially go to the states for the job prospects that an American degree offers.

Edited by ThePomoHipster

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I am a Canadian at a US school now. When I was applying to PhD programs in 2011, I applied to a lot of US schools because the Canadian government did not value basic research* in my field and Canadian schools did not value this type of research (i.e. only a handful of professors and I had already worked with many of them in undergrad + Masters). For the last 4.5 years in my American PhD program at a top, well-endowed private school, I have continually been shocked and amazed at how much more resources these schools have towards research. Resources that were incredibly scarce in Canada were very plentiful here. I can't say the same for your field, but I feel like I have had so many more opportunities in my current PhD programs and these opportunities would have been much less plentiful in Canada. I can't say for sure how much this experience will help me in the job market, because I'm not past that stage yet. However, I do feel that I never felt that lack of resources held me back in my US program---I was able to do research and access facilities to work to my fullest potential. So I can't answer the main question you are asking, but sharing my thoughts might help you (and it will help me to process what's going on):

I moved to the US after Obama's first term and just before his re-election and I felt that Obama was steering America to become a very different country than the America I thought about when I was growing up in Canada. I was happy about this and felt that America was finally moving in the right direction when it comes to social issues. 

This year, I am on the postdoc job market and I'm applying to both US and Canadian places. I am not 100% sure what I will do yet. My original plan is to only consider Canadian offers now (if I even get any) but as you said, it's too early in the season to make these decisions (postdoc season is about 2 months ahead of grad school applications). Things have changed in Canada in my field though---many big schools are growing very large planet research groups in the last few years, so I think some of these programs are just as competitive as US schools. 

I am concerned for the safety of myself and my family in the US with the new President. I am fortunate that I don't belong in the many groups specifically targeted by Trump but many people I care about are. I don't want to live in a country where some of the stuff Trump proposes can happen and have no power to change it. And although I do not think Trump will take any direct action that personally affects me, I am concerned about what this says about the population as a whole that would elect such a person. I already felt unsafe traveling to certain parts of the United States and now I will feel even less safe. One consolation is that cities in California are generally places where I feel safe and welcomed.    

Right now, the current plan is to stick to the original plans of applying. I won't withdraw any applications yet. I will wait and see what happens next before deciding. It seems like I will probably know many of my job results before President-Elect Trump takes power, so it's not like I can really wait that long before choosing. I know a lot of Americans joke about moving to another country, but it's not like I'm only trying to escape Trump (and to be honest, a good chunk of my fear of Trump stems from his impact on foreign policy, including relationships with Canada so there's no real escape). It's because I don't feel comfortable with someone like that in power and for me to not have any voice or power to change much. I am also concerned that with Brexit and Trump and many other international things happening, that there is a general movement towards closing off borders and isolation. I don't want this to happen in Canada in 3 years. So that's another incentive to be back, where I can work to make a difference. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that you or any other Canadian should stay in Canada because of this reason (after all, I did leave in 2012 with the intention to return because I wanted to pursue better opportunities). However, I shared this train of thought to say that it's okay to factor this election result in your decision matrix. And to share what I'm thinking, in case you wanted to know how others are considering this news.

(* to clarify, by "basic research", I mean scientific research for the sake of knowledge, rather than having direct impact on engineering, the economy, etc. Of course basic research can have indirect positive impacts (e.g. research that does lead to information that can cause direct impact to these things).)

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The straight-forward rub is that doing a Ph.D. at a Canadian university (even a top one) will most likely relegate you to being competitive in only the Canadian market. It is relatively rare (even extremely) for people to get tenure track jobs in the US or even Europe with Canadian Ph.D.s. The reverse is not true; people who graduate with Ph.D.s from US universities (especially top ranked ones) have access to virtually any academic market especially if they are competitive candidates (publications + good dissertation). 

The main downside of this is that the Canadian academic market is quite limited > not a lot of job openings (and I imagine especially the case for English) so that is going to significantly reduce your chances of obtaining TT jobs.

I would strongly advise people not to make decisions based on political situations (outside of really serious ones like large-scale conflict/war, rampant authoritarianism, ect). Coming from someone who has spent a lot of time living in a number of countries (including both the US and Canada), political climates rarely, if ever, impact individuals directly. I currently live in the US as a foreigner and I do not expect my life to change one iota nor should I because of X person getting elected or whatever. In fact, even outside of my personal situation, I do not expect the US to change at all really for the foreseeable future because of the results of this election.

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