Does Where You Get Your PhD Matter for Your Postdoc Prospects?
The following Q&A is adapted from the webinar, Neuroscience Training Programs without Borders.
Are all PhDs considered the same regardless of the country in which the degree was obtained? Does getting a PhD in a foreign country hinder a person’s opportunities for postdoctoral training in any way?
Laura Colgin: If you have a strong dissertation and strong publications, it doesn’t matter from what country you received your PhD. It is important that you choose a lab that’s right for you and where you can do excellent research that interests you. Certainly when I’m hiring postdocs — in fact all three of my postdocs are international — I look at their publications, not the university where they did their PhD.
Subhasree Basu: Usually everyone is treated the same. It’s really your CV or resume, the kind of experience you have, and the position that is in question. I think in general, everyone is treated the same. It’s not that if you’re from one country versus another that makes a difference, at least not in the United States, in my understanding.
Some mentors look for lab experience and if you have experience with animals. Especially for postdoctoral candidates, PIs seem to look for such experiences when you’re applying for postdoctoral positions. Publications make a difference, and also if you’re doing an excellent dissertation or good research.
Tim O’Leary: I agree that the bottom line is really “are you qualified?” and “what’s your track record?” That said, I don’t agree that all PhDs are recognized equally. My mentor has spoken on this, and she’ll say, for example — and this is just a fact — graduate programs in the United States are longer, and it’s likely that you’ll have more publications coming out of graduate programs in the United States. In the United Kingdom, they’re shorter, and it’s not uncommon for people to come out of them with only one publication, or even just the beginnings of a publication when they’re applying for a postdoc.
Now, many people recognize this, and they take it into account when looking at candidates. However, this comes down to the attitude of the potential mentor, not a universal judgment of what a PhD is like from one country versus another. This is actually quite a subtle issue, and it’s maybe not something you can do anything about — but it’s something to think about.
Serge Charpak: There is a difference. If I speak of postdocs, then I don’t speak of my graduate program but my lab. I look at the candidates’ publications, in case I can potentially reach out to the team leader with whom the PhD has done the work to know what’s going on.
It’s also based on the discussion at scientific meetings. This is absolutely crucial for me. PhD students must find the right person when they go to international meetings. They discuss their international exchange and tour for months. That’s why we push the students to go internationally, to interact with everybody. This is important.
I can say it is difficult for us to judge students that apply to the PhD program when they apply from some countries because sometimes it’s not easy to understand their level. The full interview is absolutely crucial for us. Otherwise, we have only a written piece of paper.