By Neil Harris
How far do you want your career to take you? Most of us are content to work close to where we were born, or completed our first degree. Some of us will go to the other side of the globe in search of their dream job. If you have itchy feet, want to travel, explore different cultures and get a job in a university abroad, how can you make it happen?
Nationals of countries within the European Union are not restricted if they move from one member country to another, though knowledge of the language where we want to work is valuable. Outside Europe some restrictions may apply, visas can be required, but if you are a specialist in a specific area of knowledge and the university needs your services it is unlikely to be a problem. Certainly many university departments here in the UK welcome those who have worked abroad who return to give their new employer the benefit of a broader, different experience.
Using the internet
Kathy Oswald was organising events at University College London but with her degree in German and reasonable French she wanted to fashion a broader European career. Browsing the internet she found many jobs in other European countries that she could apply for. Kathy discovered that when the employer is an international organisation English is often the language spoken in the office, which makes the transition easier. Outside work, however, it is important to develop fluency in the local language.
Her first success was to land a job in Turin, Italy at the European Training Foundation. She applied in English responding to their advertisement on the internet. There she assisted in the organisation of training programmes. Later she worked for the European Microbiology Organisation in Heidelberg, Germany where again her valuable skills were employed in organising international conferences.
‘What attracted me', says Kathy, ‘was the quality of life in Heidelberg, the excellent pay and conditions, the chance to live near to the office and not commute and the kindness and friendliness of my colleagues.’
Start your search here on jobs.ac.uk. Another resource which Kathy found helpful was the Europa website.
Apply for a fellowship/ financial award
Another way to get employment in a university abroad is to apply for a grant or fellowship. Julia Jones, a social scientist by background, was a Research Fellow at the Royal College of Nursing Institute in Oxford when she decided to apply for one of the Marie Curie Fellowships being offered by the European Commission. The aim of the fellowships is to offer researchers a new experience working at a centre of excellence in a different European country to the one where they were initially employed.
As a result Julia was awarded a two year post-doctoral Marie Curie Fellowship, hosted by the University of Verona, Italy. Her project was to study mental health economics in the Department of Medicine and Public Health in Verona. 'This opportunity presented me with huge advantages', says Julia. 'It increased my research skills and gave me the chance to work in an interdisciplinary research environment where I was able to develop networks with other researchers in the same field'.
‘In Oxford my research had been predominantly qualitative but in Verona I received training and experience in quantitative research as well as learning about health economics. An additional benefit of my two years in Italy was the opportunity to learn Italian'.
Now Julia has returned to the UK where she is employed at City University as a Lecturer in Mental Health. The Marie Curie Fellowship has allowed her to obtain a more senior role in a UK University than she had previously. She still has links with the University of Verona, where she now holds an honorary fellowship position. More details about Marie Curie
Fellowships can be found on the Marie Curie Actions site. The fellowships are part of the European Commission’s Framework Programme 7 which includes other opportunities and a system for finding research partners in other EU countries.
The UK research councils and The British Council are anxious to help researchers here gain experience of networking and working with researchers from other countries to broaden their expertise. Grants are available for visits abroad and short postings (see below).
Talk to visitors
Those working in UK universities continually receive visitors from universities abroad. They are often keen to learn from us what we do, how we do it and importantly how it compares with what happens at their home university. These visits often seem casual but they can lead to real opportunities.
Bob Porrer was working in his office at Edinburgh University one day when some visiting academics arrived from New Zealand. As director of the Careers Service he showed them around his patch and explained how the careers service operated in Edinburgh. They expressed interest, thanked him and left. Bob didn't expect to hear any further. Months had passed when out of the blue he was approached by a senior manager from Auckland University. They requested that he visit them, analyse how they ran their Career Service and present his recommendations for how they might improve their own.
Taking up the challenge, Bob moved to Auckland and spent six months there investigating the provision of careers guidance for students. When he made his report, however, they asked him to stay on a while, be director of their service and put his recommendations into effect.
Meanwhile David Trought, a qualified careers adviser, who had been working in Southampton, decided he would like to emigrate to New Zealand. David successfully applied for a job in the Auckland University Business School and began enjoying his new life there. Before Bob Porrer finally returned to the UK, his post as Director of the Careers Service was advertised and David, who was well qualified for the job, was appointed. From that one academic visit two university employees from Britain became employed in New Zealand.
The Association of Commonwealth Universities provides lots of information on universities in the British Commonwealth.
A more proactive approach, of course, would be to ask visitors about opportunities in their home institution or in their country generally, maintain contact and network into contact with their colleagues.
People you know and those who admire your work can have a major impact on your career development. This too can lead to international opportunities. Continually increasing your network of contacts is another well trodden route to opportunities abroad.
Martin Cripps began his academic career in the Economics Department at Warwick University where he was soon promoted to professor. His specialist field is game theory. Martin was developing novel theoretical results, writing papers and communicating his work at conferences. Building a reputation in his discipline, he was invited to several conferences in the USA and over time developed a strong relationship with some academics there, including those at Northwestern University near Chicago, where there is a leading department in economic theory. The dean of the business school at Washington University in St Louis also had close links with Northwestern and when he was seeking a new member of staff one of his contacts there recommended Martin for the job.
It was a golden opportunity which Martin took enthusiastically. 'In the states, if you can do the job that's fine. There is scope to try things out and sometimes fail. There's a more positive culture in research too. Numerous opportunities are available to network with people working in your discipline. If someone is working in the same field as yourself you soon discover them; it's not possible for two people to be working on the same topic without knowing it'.
‘The attitude to teaching and assessment is also different. The best people to check you're teaching well and marking fairly are the students themselves, not external assessors. This is considered best practice in American universities. Students quickly complain if they feel you are doing a bad job and it is important to listen to them'.
Now Martin is back in the UK working as a professor in the Economics Department at University College London. 'It's one of the leading economics departments in Europe and my American experience definitely helped me to land the job'.
Some university subjects lend themselves to industrial sponsorship. Involvement and a reputation in disciplines concerned with the oil and gas industry, or management subjects, can certainly lead to an international career.
Richard Dawe spent over twenty years working as an academic in the department of Earth Resources at Imperial College, London. There they ran one of the UK's leading masters' degrees in petroleum engineering. He was extremely active during the exciting days when the North Sea oil industry was developing fast and gained a strong international reputation not just in academia but also as a consultant to the oil industry.
Eventually Richard was offered the Occidental Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Qatar. ‘It is a country with the largest gas field in the world', says Richard, and the Qatarise needed the facility to educate their own people at home. They were developing their university and I was delighted to apply my experience and skills in this endeavour'.
But this was a short term contract. So after two years in Qatar Professor Dawe moved to the University of West Indies in Trinidad where he now runs courses in petroleum studies. He speaks with enthusiasm about getting the key players - government, industry and university - behind the concept of his department and of growing local talent with the skills the energy industries require. It's definitely a challenge he enjoys.
Short periods abroad
But there is much more. The Research Councils help to facilitate international collaboration. They offer funding for a range of experiences abroad from short study visits, through assistance with pilot studies to two years research at another university. Research Councils UK has offices in India and China.
The British Council runs the Development Partnerships in Higher Education Scheme that also encourages international experience for British researchers and academics which covers many countries.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is yet another organisation that sponsors the movement of academics between countries, in their case to Germany.
So if you want to explore academic life internationally the opportunities are there. They continually arise in many different ways and as long as you are alert and ready to take the opportunities something will come your way. Start here. Search the internet. Discover international vacancies and funding opportunities. Attend international conferences, develop your network and always talk to academic visitors from abroad. If you have itchy feet your ambitions can be fulfilled. The academic world is truly global.