Strong interactions, or correlations, between the d or f electrons in transition-metal oxides lead to various types of metal-insulator transitions that can be triggered by external parameters such as temperature, pressure, doping, magnetic fields and electric fields. Electric-field-induced metallization of such materials from their insulating states could enable a new class of ultrafast electronic switches and latches. However, significant questions remain about the detailed nature of the switching process. Here, we show, in the canonical metal-to-insulator transition system V 2 O 3, that ultrafast voltage pulses result in its metallization only after an incubation time that ranges from a ̂1/4150 ps to many nanoseconds, depending on the electric field strength. We show that these incubation times can be accounted for by purely thermal effects and that intrinsic electronic-switching mechanisms may only be revealed using larger electric fields at even shorter timescales. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.