dimanche 20 mai 2007

The incredible journey of a PhD student looking for an assistant professor (a.k.a "Maitre de Conférences" in French) job.

Here, I am going to talk about the ongoing process of finding a job as an assistant professor in Economics here in France. This is a very long, gruesome and costly process that started back in December. Let me explain (briefly) for those who are blissfully unaware of our wonderful university system.

One could think that actually completing the PhD is the hardest part. Well, it is, but things do not get easier once you are a doctor. Indeed, after completing my PhD (at the beginning of December), I had to collect an incredible amount of documents before the 14th of December, the dreaded deadline for the famous "qualification". What's the qualification you might ask? Well, basically, if you don't have it, you can't even apply for a job as a lecturer at a university.
Hence, you have to send (by mail...I mean snail mail!) those administrative documents as well as a copy of your PhD thesis (weighting 1.2 Kgs in my case, such that it costed around 9 euros per shipment) and your research papers to two "rapporteurs", whose role is to decide whether you are good enough or not. Around mid-february, you get the desired answer. In my case, I got the qualification, such that I was allowed to continue the process. Then, you have to wait a few more weeks to know to which university you can apply: this information is given in the very french JO, i.e. "Journal Officiel de la République Française (of the French Republic)", as well as the guidelines for submitting your dossier. Basically, you need still more administrative documents as well as some research ones (like a list of your publications, a detailed CV...). Then, for a single application to a given University, every single document must be put in 3 different envelops where you have written your name, your adress and the exact label of the job (as well as the University...as if it wasn't obvious!). And this for every single application!. Oh, and I forget, you have to join an empty envelop (with your name, adress...) so that they can answer you. Hence, in my case, I had to write my name, adress...140 times (4 times the number of applications, that is 35)!!! Moreover, I also had to sign and date 3 documents in each envelop, that is I had to put my signature 315 times (3x3x35)!!!
Then, at last, your dossiers are complete, you only need to mail them which costs you 2.61 euros per dossier, which amounted to 80 euros in my case.

A few months later, that is, around the beginning of May, you start getting some answers and you know where and when you are to be interviewed. Well, actually the "when" part is still a bit random: for instance, I was asked in for an interview in Nantes at 9 a.m, as was one of my friend; it turned out that 5 people had been summoned at 9 a.m! Hence, I finally got interviewed at 10.30 and my friend at 11. The problem was that, thinking we were supposed to be interviewed early, we had a reservation (non cancellable, non reimbursable) for a train at noon. We had to take a taxi to arrive just in time! Moreover, my friend had arrived the day before to be sure to be on time, so she also had to pay for the hotel. Had she known that she was going to be interviewed at 11 a.m., she could have arrived by the first train in the morning, as I did.

In Bordeaux, we were all summoned at 8 a.m.! Yes, all of us: that is, at least 15 persons! Fortunately, we were able to say that we had a train at 11.30 and we were among the first to be interviewed. But I guess that some of our colleagues only got interviewed at noon or even in the afternoon!
I also went to Nice (a nice city in the South of France by the seaside) and everything went fine there. Except for a not-too helpful bus driver; indeed, I had to take a bus from the train station to the University. Beforehand, I had found one stop called "Clair de Lune" which seemed to be close to the University. As I climbed into the bus, I asked the bus driver : "You do stop at Clair de Lune don't you?". His answer, in his typical southern accent, was : " I don't know, I don't recall the names of the bus stops". Well, I almost asked him if he was a real bus driver, but I decided to remain polite, and I asked him whether he was going close to the Faculty of Law and Economics. Once again, he was not so sure. Despite all this, I made it in time for the interview which went rather well.

However, as well as the interviews might go, one must always be aware of the dreaded "local guy (or girl)"! What's a local guy you might ask? Well, it is simply the PhD student who has done his thesis in the university you are being interviewed. The problem is, at most small universities in provincial France there is only one job (at most) each year. Since there is also almost always a local guy, and since the local guy tends to be chosen for the job, it is not untypical to end in 2nd place in many universities! It didn't happen to me, but it happened to some persons I know. At least, when you are third or fourth, the pill is easier to swallow! Indeed, paying between 80 and 150 euros per interview (for the train and the hotel) and being beaten each time by the local guy must be really disappointing.

Well, as for me, I am interviewed tomorrow in my university and it is my last chance to get the job. You might think that, as I am the local guy, I must not worry. Above all since there are 3 assistant professor jobs! However, since my university is rather big, there are also 3 local girls; moreover, it seems that they won't select 3 locals (basically because it sends a bad signal to the market). Hence, I guess my future will be determined by a coin flip (I will certainly be up against my friend, and she deserves the job as much as I do!) like when you hold Ace-King in Texas Hold'em and you are up against an underpair.
Lately, I have not won many of these coin flips. I hope tomorrow it will change!

See you tomorrow then for the results.

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