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So after a few postdocs in applied math (PhD in pure math), I'm currently outside academia with a part time teaching position in France. I'm in the process of applying to a lab in the South of France for a permanent faculty (Maitre des Conférences) position and I contacted the head of research and upon my request, was invited to a give a talk. Now in the form that I was asked to fill up online, there were two options: i) an online talk and ii) a talk in the presence of the team (and in this case, the form explicitly asked if I wanted that the lab took charge of the mission, which I'd assume financially: travel, lodging, food...) Initially I chose the online one, because I thought it'd be strange to visit at the lab's expense if I'd give the talk offline. However, upon I initially submitted the form with ticking/checking the online talk option, I sent a brief email to the the head of the lab stating that if she preferred, I could travel to them and give a talk, to which she replied that both options (online and offline) were okay with her. I didn't reply to that yet.

So now I'm thinking if I could change it to the offline/physical talk and travel to the South of France, because this would give me more opportunity to see what other people in the lab were doing as well, which might not be possible in just an online talk. But what's bothering me is that if I tick the box that I want the lab to take charge of the mission financially. Will it look strange if I ask for financial support (since I'm the one requesting to give a talk purely for the fact that I'd like to apply to the lab and hence network, isn't it strange if I say I need financial support to travel there?). I'd be grateful if you could please let me know what I should do - I'd like to pay for my own visit, given my financial budget.

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    Back when I was on the job market I had a related situation with a school in the US (they wanted to interview me, but were unwilling to fully pay for an international trip). My postdoc advisor, very reasonably, asked me if I really wanted to work for an uni that cannot even afford the expenses to fly me over for an interview.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 18 at 11:04
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    In short - if this is a reasonable lab they won't mind the few EUR to cover your expenses, and most likely they will also prefer to meet you in person.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 18 at 11:04
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    It will not look strange - you are not being reimbursed for your application, you are being reimbursed for the expenses of your free talk (which happens to give you and the team an opportunity to meet IRL). This is 100% normal (at least for a night of lodging and food).
    – clef
    Feb 18 at 15:28
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    Think about the budget from their perspective. They are trying to decide whether to offer you a permanent job. That means paying you several thousand euros per month for the foreseeable future with no easy way for them to back out. Spending a few hundred euros once is a completely irrelevant amount if it helps them make a better decision.
    – quarague
    Feb 18 at 16:45
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    If they are still considering multiple applicants. Going there in person will generally increase you chances on the job, because it shows that you are interested and willing to invest time. Please do not think, that by not physically going and saving some of the money they would like to pay for you to come over will increase your chances.
    – Hjan
    Feb 19 at 7:43

6 Answers 6

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I see no reason not to travel, ahead of making a decision, to a place where you might decide to live and work for decades.

An on-site visit will reveal so much more about the collegiality of the work and life environment than just an online talk.

Why would you want to pay out-of-pocket? Allowing your “host” to cover your expenses will also get you insight into their administrative structure.

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    Why quotes on "host"? I'd call them hosts unironically. Feb 18 at 15:00
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    @AzorAhai-him- I'm guessing he means its not any one in the lab personally covering their expenses, but rather research funds of the lab.
    – Tyberius
    Feb 18 at 15:30
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    I guess it's perfectly cromulent in my dialect to call a lab hosting you with reach funds a host. Feb 18 at 21:55
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    @AzorAhai-him- no irony intended. Just not sure if then host is a person, an organization, or how much hosting will actually take place. Feb 19 at 1:23
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I am French, I went through the whole application process a few years ago (in maths if that's relevant).

It is extremely common to invite (paying for expenses) applicants for an offline talk at the weekly seminar series of the department. I, along with many other applicants for Maître de Conférences positions, have been invited several times to different departments.

I would say go for it, the online option is here if you cannot travel or would prefer to stay remote for any reason. Otherwise, the offline option is the default (and the online option basically did not exist before Covid).

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    Thank you Victor for your answer! I'm applying for math and applied math positions only (I applied for CNU qualifications for these ones only plus my PhD is in math and postdoc + industry research relates to applied math). I honestly didn't know about this practice of inviting candidates for a talk, probably because I've been outside academia since 2018 and I'm a non-EU citizen, and thus I'm a bit academically isolated. I was wondering if it'd be possible to contact you via email/LinkedIn etc to ask a few questions about MCF applications? Feb 18 at 13:03
  • Let me add that, in France, the travel expenses for the formal recruiting process itself (the audition, which sees all selected candidates have a short interview on the same day) are rarely reimbursed. You should thus take advantage of this paid opportunity to meet people in the department and investigate if the position suits you. Thanks to Covid, official interviews can take place offline. Feb 21 at 4:31
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    @ScienceMan Yes of course, I'd be glad to give you some pointers, although I don't know how since I'd rather not share my private info in this public forum...
    – Victor
    Feb 22 at 10:03
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    @Victor Totally understandable and thanks anyway! They're asking for a document called 'presentation analytique', which I understand to be a detailed CV with the description of research and teaching activities. So I combined my detailed CV (with work experience, publications, references, teaching experience...) with a statement of research interests, where I gave brief details of each project I finished or am working on. I however didn't include a long description of a project that's more detailed. I was wondering if that'll be okay? Having no connection to the French academia, I'm bit unsure. Mar 4 at 14:33
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    @ScienceMan Disclaimer: I did not get a Maître de Conférences position, but a Junior Researcher one at Inria, so take what I say with a grain of salt; Xi'an may confirm or infirm what I say. From my point of view, what you propose should be enough. From what I understood It is important to try and make your research understandable since some members of the committee may not be from your specific domain (but keeping some meat for the experts is also good). There's no real limit on the "CV analytique", I think mine was around 30 pages, so one page on the detailed project could be doable.
    – Victor
    Mar 7 at 15:08
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In my experience, though not in France, if you are invited to give an on-site talk the expenses will be covered completely. There is an advantage in that, in that you get to meet people more personally than is possible online.

And, likewise, it is better for the institution to have a chance to meet you in person and to see how you interact with the current people. That is worth some expense to most places. In addition to a formal talk, be prepared for informal meetings over, say, coffee.

Other than COVID, I would personally favor the face to face meeting, with at least a day on campus to meet and talk to people.

But, you can ask if you aren't certain about the coverage of costs. And no, it isn't strange.

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It's not just about the talk.

An on-site visit will give them a chance to consider "do I want to work with this guy, for years" or "do I want to have a beer with this guy?". Nobody want to work with a jerk even if they are world class researcher.

You also have the same chance to judge them.

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Paying the expenses (either through reimbursement or through arranging the services for them) of people who come visit them during the hiring process is the cost of doing buisness if they want to recruit the best talent from a relatively small global pool. You shouldn't feel bad about it.

A whole lot of time and money (both yours and theirs) will be wasted if you take the job and it doesn't work out. It's in their interests to suss out as much about you and whether you will be a good fit, and it is in your interests to suss out as much as possible about whether the place is somewhere you will want to work.

The pandemic has forced us into doing stuff online, that we would previously have done in person. On-paper it certainly seems more efficient to do stuff remotely than to spend many hours travelling.

In practice though, tools like zoom are a poor substitute for real human interaction, it gives you no opertunity to check out the broader aspects of the role and location and gives them no opertunity to see what you are like in a more informal situation.

IMO if you are serious about the role you should go in person.

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The other answers already explained all the benefits of going in person, so I won't repeat them.

I want to emphasize the budget aspect: let them pay. The interview process is a two-way thing: the lab/uni is not "doing you a favour" by interviewing you, they're also trying to fill a position with a person who is a good fit. Academic positions are highly specialised, the suitable candidates are highly qualified, and institutions shouldn't expect to get access to the best possible candidate pool if they don't invest into the hiring process.

Additionally, a lot of applications to entry-level academic positions come from postdocs. Postdoc positions rarely have glamorous pay. And academic positions are quite hard to obtain -- meaning it's likely that a person will interview for more than one. Covering their own interview expenses would likely limit most young researchers to look for local positions only.

Covering the candidate's expenses is good interview practice -- it makes these positions more easily accessible to a more diverse pool of candidates and shows the institution's dedication to fit the best fit for the role.

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