Are Foreign STEM PhDs More Entrepreneurial? Entrepreneurial Characteristics, Preferences, and Employment Outcomes of Native and Foreign Science and Engineering PhD Students

Michael Roach, Henry Sauermann, John Skrentny

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Research shows immigrants to the U.S. contribute to innovation and are more likely than natives to become startup founders. This may reflect labor market conditions and constraints related to visa regulations, or individual attributes such as ability or preferences for risk. Despite progress in understanding immigrant entrepreneurs, little attention has been paid to startup employees who “join” founders in their entrepreneurial efforts. We draw on unique longitudinal data from over 5,600 foreign and native STEM PhD students at U.S. research universities to examine entrepreneurial characteristics and career preferences prior to graduation, and founding and employment outcomes after graduation. We find that foreign PhD students differ from native PhD students with respect to individual characteristics typically associated with entrepreneurship including risk tolerance, preference for autonomy, and interest in commercialization. Foreign PhD students are more likely to express interest in becoming a founder or a startup employee before graduation, but they are less likely to become founders or startup employees in their first industry job after graduation. More nuanced analyses show these patterns hold primarily for foreign PhDs from China and India, while foreign PhDs from Western countries are similar to native PhDs with respect to career interests and employment outcomes.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Roles of Immigrants and Foreign Students in US Science, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship
EditorsIna Ganguli, Shulamit Kahn, Megan MacGarvie
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780226695761
ISBN (Print)9780226695624
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • international PhD students
  • economics of science
  • immigration policy
  • science policy
  • career preferences
  • entrepreneurship
  • science and engineering workforce

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