Gaël Varoquaux

Mon 13 October 2008


What’s wrong with young academic careers in France

David just blogged a link to an article about careers in higher education. I thought the paragraph on the French system was so much to the point that I would like to quote it entirely here:

In France, the access to a first permanent position as maître de conférences occurs rather early compared with other countries (on average prior to the age of 33 years) and opens the path to 35 to 40 years of an academic career. These recruitments happen after a period of high uncertainty as in almost all disciplines the ratio of “open positions per doctors” has worsened, while the doctoral degree is still not recognized as a qualification by businesses or the public sector. Recruiting a new maître de conférences thus constitutes a high-stakes decision. But currently university departments have about two months to examine the candidates, select some of them, hold a 20- to 30-minute interview with those on the short list, and rank the best ones. Despite the highly selective process that the first candidate on the list successfully passes, this new colleague is rarely considered as a chance on which to build by the recruiting university. Not only is the salary based on a national bureaucratic scale below the average GDP per capita for France, but new academics are frequently not offered a personal office and may be asked to teach the classes colleagues do not want to offer or to accept administrative duties. The difficult road toward the doctorate leads to a rather disappointing and frequently non-well-remunerated situation, thus undermining the attractiveness of the career.

I don’t regret doing a PhD, but I think the current situation needs to be stressed, especially to future PhD students: high risk, little gain career. You better really love what you’ll be doing. And keep in mind an exit door.

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