First Jobs in Academia: A Comparison Between France and the UK

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Since the start of the university funding crisis and the publication of the Browne report many PhDcandidates in the UK are feeling jittery about landing a first position in academia. Some young academics may be thinking about applying for their first position abroad. In this article we look at the potential benefits and pitfalls of starting a career in France compared to the UK.

Postdoc Positions In France

In the UK an applicant applies for a postdoc position and then begins to climb the career ladder, usually at a university. In France, research is almost wholly funded by the Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Institut National pour la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), both government agencies. This means that a potential academic has two choices, he/she can either work for a university or a research institution. Both types of institution follow a similar career structure but transfers between the two remain rare.

If you choose to work for a university you will start as an Attaché Temporaire d’Enseignement et de Recherche (ATER) or the Allocataire de recherche-moniteur, equivalent of a UK postdoc. All academic positions in France are considered to be part of the civil service and, whilst they are open to foreigners, are overwhelmingly staffed by French nationals. It almost goes without saying that you need to speak word perfect French to stand a chance of winning an academic position in France.

What is an ATER position?

The ATER position is a temporary teaching and research position that is normally applied for in the last year of a PhD, a student’s supervisor will need to confirm that the PhD will be submitted within a year. In 2010, the ATER salary was between 21 002,45 € et 21 602,20 €, which is significantly lower than the majority of UK postdoctoral positions, even more seriously over half of ATERs are not on full time contracts meaning they earn even less. If the low salary doesn’t put you off, competition for these positions remains fierce. A commission of specialists is responsible for recruitment and in practice most positions go to PhD students already at the host university.

Jobs At Research Institutes in France

If you choose to apply to a research institution the first step on the ladder is as a non-tenured postdoctoral researcher. Positions are listed on the CNRS website in early December and applications have to be submitted by January. Applications consist of a 10 page summary of past research and a 10 page document on future research. In order to be eligible, candidates have to have successfully defended their PhD thesis and, depending on the position, have published articles. Candidates will be interviewed in Paris by a panel of eighteen academics, but formal job offers are not given out until June, when a second committee reviews all applications. Salaries start at 2000 € per month and yearly bonuses ranging from 600 – 1300 € are added to this base pay.

In spite of the low salaries, the fierce competition for places means that getting a postdoc in France is no easier than getting one in the UK.

 The Global Academic Careers Guide

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