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In a recent exchange with a faculty member based in France, whose ERC-funded postdoc I had applied to earlier, I was told: "a new local regulation makes it impossible to recruit under the status of 'post-doctoral fellow' someone with a PhD older than 3 years. Such a person could only be recruited as 'non-permanent researcher' with quite different conditions, and will require further negotiations with the ERC grant for faculty members."

I didn't further enquire about this to the faculty since she's busy and has no obligation of clarifying it to me. So I ask here - do you know what exactly does the new rule say? And is it true only in France or for any ERC grant, or in Europe? Some contexts and links will be appreciated!

If true, then this is indeed a bad news for me, since I'm trying to come back to academic research after a long hiatus from it. I'm of course quite active research wise (geometric statistics/statistical shape analysis) but a series of unfortunate circumstances and working in industry led me to fall out of academia for about five years (since January 2018), and I'm hoping that there's some hope for me, as I don't see myself getting a permanent position without doing a postdoc, which I'm perfectly fine with doing.

Thank you very much in advance!!!

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    I am not sure if I understand your statement "What does it say?". If you are looking for some hidden message from your regulators, I would read that regulation or preparation documents for that regulation. Your Ministry of Education should provide it to you and if not you may get it via the "freedom of information law". Without knowing that I couldn't decide, what is the message. If you just wanted to know, what this regulation includes, the process of getting it will be the same.
    – Juandev
    Aug 5, 2023 at 17:56
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    @Juandev: I'm having difficulties to follow your comment. It seems to me that OP simply wasn't told what regulation precisely the faculty member was referring to. So OP is asking here what kind of regulation exists either in France or within the European Research Council which says that postdoc positions can only be offered to people who got there PhD no longer than three years ago. Aug 5, 2023 at 22:08
  • @JochenGlueck Yes exactly, there was no more detail in the faculty's answer, so I was further enquiring here, with the hope that some users here could be academic faculty somewhere in Europe and would pinpoint the regulation exactly, as often there could be conditions in such regulations. Aug 5, 2023 at 22:37
  • @JochenGlueck so If you understand that way, I would try to find that documentation first.
    – Juandev
    Aug 6, 2023 at 11:35

1 Answer 1

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In France, the law requires a contract for a postdoctoral researcher be established at latest 3 years after obtaining the doctoral degree, for a minimum duration of one year and a maximum of 3 years, and renewable once within the limit of a total duration of 4 years.

A contract for a postdoctoral researcher is a special contract that notably derogates from the general expectation under French law that employment should be on a permanent basis. It also provides additional requirements on the part of employer on the support and training of the postdoctoral researcher. It is subject to special rules from the government, and a postdoc employed by a public institution may have different rights than other employees of the state.

The law does not prevent you from doing what postdocs do (like she mentioned, as a non-permanent researcher), but your contract cannot be administered under special rules for postdocs, which may be a negative factor for your employer.

ERC grants in general do not prohibit hiring non-permanent scientific staff, but depending on the institution, your non-postdoc status may result in additional accounting or other bureucratic work.


In general, such restrictions are not uncommon in Europe. The rule on who qualifies as a postdoc, with associated rights (or lack thereof), can come from many sources. For example, a postdoc grant or fellowship may impose the restriction to support young researchers. Postdocs also often benefit from exemption from normal immigration rules (quotas, proof of inability to find domestic workers etc.), so a country may impose requirements to prevent abuse. For example, in Switzerland, a postdoc usually has to start within two years of graduation and usually cannot be more than four years, as a postdoc work permit is not subject to normal immigration procedure and should not be used to circumvent the law.

Similarly, the working conditions of many postdocs (like graduate assistants) are in violation of the labour laws in effect, or would be if not for their special status. Labour unions also have an interest in protecting interests of workers and (if you are cynical) receiving dues from more members. Collective agreements often set minimum salary depending on the experience of workers, and may require the classification of certain employees not as a postdoc, which has a consequent effect on the compensation and protection afforded to them.

The goal of these rules are to prevent the abuse of permanent non-permanent positions widespread in academia, although it may have an unfortunate effect for cases like yours. You may also point out the conflicting stance of the government who does not fund well enough to support more permanent positions, but that would be a separate discussion.

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  • Thank you for the answer with the link! Few follow up questions if you don't mind: 1) So is the law passed in 2020 only? 2) What if the postdoc comes with an external funding, say Marie Curie from another country? In this case will (s)he be allowed to pursue her/his postdoc or no? 3) About "your contract cannot be administered under special rules for postdocs, which may be a negative factor for your employer", what negative effects for example? 4) Are there such laws in other EU country, e.g. UK, Germany too? I did take note of the one in Switzerland. How about the US? Aug 6, 2023 at 18:33
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    @ScienceMan (1) Yes, although local regulations may already exist before. (2) it should be better. (3) they may be required to pay you more or have to be careful so you cannot claim a permanent position under the law, they may also just want to avoid extra administrative work. (4) this really depends on the institution even if there is no law. I don't see often UK and US inst. with this type of requirement but you should check with individual departments.
    – xngtng
    Aug 6, 2023 at 20:00
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    @ScienceMan e.g. in Sweden, if the university if part of collective agreement with SULF, a postdoc contract usually must be established no later than three years after PhD, although exemptions are possible. Like I mentioned, the requirement may also come from collective agreements, sulf.se/en/work-salary-and-benefits/fixed-period-employment/…
    – xngtng
    Aug 6, 2023 at 20:01

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