How can ecologists from developing countries can be competitive on the international academic job market? Specifically, do prolonged career stays at less prestigious institutions in poorer countries help or harm long-term job prospects? I suppose the broader question is whether search committees compare applications equally based only on CVs, or do they use mental correction-factors that accommodate the specific context of each applicant?
I confess I’m a little nervous about answering this one, because I feel like it’s a question I should be asking Falko rather than the other way around!
My first instinct whenever someone asks me a question about the ecology faculty job market is to look at the data. Ok, I can’t tell where anyone’s “from” with the data I’ve compiled–cv’s rarely list birthplace or citizenship. But I do have data on where people got their degrees. So one way to answer this question is to look at the cv’s of ecologists who got one or more degrees in developing countries, who’ve gone on to faculty positions in wealthy countries.
Very few ecologists from developing countries go on to faculty positions in N. America (I don’t have data from anywhere outside N. America, sorry). Among 176 ecologists hired into TT asst. professor positions in ecology or an allied field in N. America during the 2017-18 job season, I only found 7 who have a bachelor’s degree from a developing country: two from Colombia, two from China (one mainland China, one Hong Kong), one from India, one from Ghana, one from Iran. All 7 of them went on to PhDs in the US. And I only found 1 of those 176 hires who had a PhD from a developing country (India; I couldn’t tell where that person got his undergraduate degree). And I didn’t find anyone among those 176 who spent significant time post-PhD employed at institutions in developing countries. So there’s your answer: few people who got their bachelor’s degrees in developing countries go on to ecology faculty positions in N. America, and they mostly do so by going to wealthy countries for grad school and postdocs. Which doesn’t mean any other path is impossible to trod. But the rarity with which other paths are trod suggests that they might be hard to trod, unfortunately. (Note that I’m not suggesting that US ecology search committees view degrees from developing countries negatively. In my experience US ecology search committees don’t care where you got your degrees. They care about your achievements, future plans, fit to the position, etc.)
I don’t have data on senior-level hires. But senior-level faculty hires are a small fraction of all N. American faculty hires. And as far as I know senior-level ecology faculty positions in N. America rarely are filled by senior ecologists moving from faculty positions in developing countries.
Presumably, the rarity with which N. American TT ecology faculty positions are filled by people who’ve previously spent a long time at institutions in developing countries reflects several factors. I wouldn’t venture to guess the relative importance of these factors, because I’m sure there are cases in which each is important, alone or in combination:
- Rarity of applicants. Having served on search committees for two widely-advertised faculty positions here at Calgary, I can only recall seeing one or two applications from people who’d spent several years at institutions in developing countries, and who were possible fits. That’s out of a total of about 100 applications across both searches. (Note that I’m not counting the more numerous applications from people who’d spent many years in developing countries but who obviously didn’t fit the positions, such as medical doctors applying for ecology faculty positions.)
- Laws requiring that hiring preference be given to citizens or permanent residents of the country in which the hiring institution is located.
- The difficulty of attaining the experience and achievements required to be competitive for an ecology faculty position in a wealthy country while working in a developing country. This gets to your broader question. The short answer to your broader question is that N. American search committees can and do make allowances for circumstances beyond the applicant’s control. But in order for them to do that, they still need to see some evidence that the applicant would be excellent at the job they’d be expected to do. Brian (below) suggests that, if you want a job at a N. American research uni, you need to publish a sufficient number of good papers in internationally competitive journals, as opposed to “local” journals. I agree with that. I wouldn’t give a specific number how many–ecology profs at research unis vary hugely in their publication rates, even within the same department. But it’s probably going to need to be more than one or two if you’ve already been in a faculty position for several years. Unfortunately, I can imagine that in some circumstances it might be difficult for someone based in a developing country to acquire enough achievements to be competitive for a faculty position in a wealthy country. Developing connections and collaborations with researchers from the wealthy country to which you might want to move might help. These days hopefully the internet and social media make it easier for those connections and collaborations to develop. But honestly I’m not well-placed to give advice on how an ecologist based in a developing country can best acquire the experience and achievements needed to be competitive for N. American ecology faculty positions. In part because I think to give really concrete useful advice one would have to be familiar with the unique local circumstances. Good advice for one developing country might be bad advice for another. So I’ll punt to our excellent old guest posts on doing ecology in developing countries–one of which is by Falko himself! See here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Short answer yes. Published papers are an international currency. If your CV is competitive on that front, everything else (recommendation letters and time at a smaller, lesser known university) doesn’t matter that much. When I was in grad school I was told that search committees didn’t always want to pay to fly somebody in from another country for an interview, but if that was ever true it is not true now. (Jeremy adds: I doubt that was ever true and it certainly hasn’t been true for a long time. I got flown in for a bunch of interviews in N. America while I was a postdoc in the UK.) A typical R1 position has $1,000,000 invested in a faculty member by the time they get tenure, saving $1000 on a plane ticket is not a good investment. Some other academic fields (e.g. economics) are very much credential based (it really matters where you did your PhD and who your adviser was). But in ecology, if you’re publishing a good number of papers in internationally competitive journals, you will be competitive for a job. If you’re publishing those papers, you’re also probably getting invites to working groups, workshops, speaking engagements etc and able to build international connections which can help.
Of course how feasible it is to publish regularly in international journals at a school with less resources and possibly other demands on your time may vary, for which see the series of 6 blog posts linked to in Jeremy’s last sentence.