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In September I got a (permanent) junior faculty position in France. The academic year is about to finish and I am taking stock of the year to see if that is really the right place for me to be. Before moving onto this position, I was doing a postdoc in the US and confess that I accepted this position in France mostly because was permanent. Now, if I look back over the year, the main thing I did not enjoy was the teaching load I was given, it was absolutely unsuitable for someone that is starting as a junior professor, but this is the way it is in France and it is not going to get any better. So I was thinking whether I should try to look for other opportunities back in the US and wondered perhaps someone with a wider view could provide me with some tips on that.

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    "not going to get any better": it will, if you know how to get organized and navigate the system. Supposedly, you write your lecture notes, your lab, your exam, your homework, etc., only once, when you start a new class, and then you can re-use large portions of it. Updating some material is way less time-consuming that writing it from scratch. If you manage to have only 1 or 2 new preparation every two years or so, you will have much more free time than you did this year. – Clément Apr 7 '18 at 17:33
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    I have observed in different countries (in Europe and Latin America) that the teaching load is usually higher for the newest professors, so it usually get better. My senior French supervisor only teachs a day per week. And, as Clément said, at the beginning you have much more work in order to prepare the whole coursework from scratch. – The Doctor Apr 7 '18 at 17:38
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    Also, I'm not sure what you are trying to compare. In France, a "Maître de Conférence" teaches ~180 hours per year. In the US, a "tenure-track assistant professor" teaches (let's say) 3 course per semester: if you suppose a course meets 35 hours per semester, that makes ~210 hours. Also, the expectations are not the same: in the US, you have to have office hours and do advising, most of the time, and it's not the case in France. Finally, the situation seems more uniform in France than in the US, where the job can greatly vary depending on the institution. – Clément Apr 7 '18 at 17:40
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    Thank you all for your quick reply and for sharing your view on this matter. Indeed, the position I was trying to compare is the one of Maître de Conférence. So as Clément said, the teaching load is 192 hours per year, knowing that each hour of traditional class is counted as 1.25 hours. The problem I see is that overall teaching seems to be central while research is seen as something to do if you got some spare time. – frank Apr 7 '18 at 18:13
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    What are you afraid of about not having not enough time to do research? If you don't like teaching than this is not a position for you. If you like to have a permanent position than take whatever you have. If you like research more move on to another place. – Herman Toothrot Apr 7 '18 at 18:25
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I lived through this same situation myself: I had only really known the US system when I accepted a MCF position in France, and was pretty overwhelmed during my first years. For example, my first year I had to prepare several cours magistraux, and I didn't know enough to refuse. At one point I explored returning to the US, in fact for two years I moved back to Boston, but in the end I found a better return on investment making the French system work for me.

Here are some take-aways.

  1. If you are ambitious and your research record is good then you should very seriously consider applying for a position as research scientist at a national institute: CNRS, INRA, Inria, Inserm provide working conditions superior to the best research universities. You can still teach undergraduates if you want to.
    In my case I went MCF to DR, but MCF to CR is more typical.

  2. Faculty in the US have a lot of administrative responsibilities and committee work that aren't counted towards their teaching load. In most French schools you will get a décharge from your service for this work and you can negotiate that. In the end of my time as an MCF some 40% of my service de 192 was counted this way.

  3. Taking on Masters students early is important for getting ahead, and while the hours counted towards your service don't completely represent the work that is involved, they can be far more rewarding. Especially if you have ambitions.

  4. As a tenured French civil servant you are free from the precariousness that junior faculty face in the US.

  5. In France, advancement is almost entirely based on research output; taking on administrative responsibilities is a necessary evil but will not in itself get you promoted. Don't get suckered into responsibilities early; do enough to show you are a team player but try to save your non-teaching time for research projects.

  6. The US research system is very individualistic, in my experience junior and senior faculty are pretty much expected to go it alone, and hire students to work with. The French system is very team oriented and perhaps half of a team's members will be permanent faculty or staff. Find a good team.

  • Thank you for sharing your experience on that! I start getting adjusted to the job. I agree that CNRS positions or similar provide more flexibility but I heard people saying that once you have an MCF position is almost impossible to get there. What's your point on that? – frank Nov 10 '18 at 18:19
  • I know of a fair number of examples beyond my own, so it is admittedly hard but not impossible. The lab or team you are joining has to be really enthusiastic, because you will need them to help you prepare your research project and they will have to go to bat for you nationally. It almost always requires a change of city: Inria (for example) wouldn't hire somebody who is already available locally, when it is cheaper to fund a délégation. The CNRS is bigger and may have more flexibility in that regard. Both like to catch "rising stars". – djs Nov 11 '18 at 15:03
  • I see. It seems there is a lot of work involved in this kind of transitions. I guess, since I have just started on this position, the best thing to do is not to think too much about leaving and focusing hard on research so to get doors open here and there. I was starting getting frustrated and my research output started being affected by that. What would be your suggestion? Thank you very much for your help! – frank Nov 11 '18 at 18:09

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