French Academia

12 years ago, Claire wrote an interesting post on the french academic system. While I disagree with some point of details (the 6 weeks cycle of the coop program and the confusing calendar are [from what I saw in other French universities] oddities, even in France), my conclusions are very similar concerning the most common position, "Maitre de Conférence": comparing my former position in Canada with similar positions that my friends got in France, the salary is half as much, the teaching load is twice as high, the administrative weight is orders of magnitude heavier, and the stress if you are trying to do research is consequent.

I would add a few comments, about the recruiting system: the number of positions allocated to each university is decided by academician in committees at the government level (in Paris), which currently leads to a disequilibrium between the capital and "country-side" universities. As the same schema is reproduced for funding, the system becomes more and more bipolar, with most universities outside of two of the bigger cities concentrating on teaching, and a few having the lower teaching load and the funding required to do proper research.

As the universities don't have too much time for recruiting, all interviews happen at the same time, within the same month nationally, and within a few days for each university. Interview days and time are assigned, and changing them is difficult. You can be interviewed in Marseille (South of France) at 8am and in Rouen (all the way to the North) at 4pm. Also, as the universities don't have too much money either, there is no refund policy of the travel expenses of candidates. In the best case, candidates have 20 mins to present their research program, 10 mins of question, and then the committee listens to the next candidate, in a all-day marathon which leaves the committee members exhausted, obviously not in the best conditions to make any wise judgement. As a consequence, the recruiting decision is most often taken beforehand, and a necessary condition to be recruited is to be already known, to come several times before to give talks in the year before the application.

This situation yields various oddities. When I was applying to various universities in France, a friend told me that I could avoid a long trip to her university: the decision had already been taken and I was not the chosen one. At another university, a hiring was cancelled because such information was leaked to many candidates, to increase the chances of one local candidate to be hired: the recruiting process was done again 6 months later. When discussing about it with some French researchers, I was told that, as candidates are recruited directly with tenure after their PhD or Postdoc fellowship, they should be willing to bear with the recruiting system...

I left France 10 years ago. I am now going back to France for 7 months, to write a thesis of "Habilitation à diriger les Recherches", which would allow me to apply for Professor positions in France (which is only an option, not really a goal yet). It will be the occasion to renew contacts in France, make myself known if I want to apply in the future, and get again a taste at the academic life in France!!!
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