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Hello Academia community,

I am a soon-to-be holder (next week) of a PhD in zoology (mammalian biomechanics). Following my graduation, I would like to move to the UK. Ideally, I would like to continue my research in a postdoc position. However, I would not mind taking up non-academic work, in a relevant field, if possible.

Probably, I need to clear some things up:

  • Why move? I currently live in Greece. Working conditions are terrible, and funding is scarce. As a postdoc researcher, if I successfully get a position, I can expect a salary of ~600 euros a month (it is hard to live on this budget, and impossible to live relatively comfortably). There are incredible limitations in research expenses as well, and my work requires some high-tech equipment. Plus, huge uncertainty for my future.
  • Why the UK? I will be making the move with my girlfriend. This is very important to me - perhaps more important than my work. She works in education, and is fluent in English, therefore the limitation. I have had suggestions to apply in other European countries, but I am not seriously considering.
  • What actions have I taken so far? I have been invited to apply for a Newton fellowship by a lab I have contacted. However, getting the fellowship is highly uncertain. I have also applied to some openings for Lecturers in zoology in various universities, but I think it is highly unlikely I will get one without a postdoc. Other than this, nothing.
  • What are my qualifications? My PhD project has gone quite well. I have 8 (soon to be 9, hopefully) papers published or accepted for publication in some of the best journals in zoology. I have a Masters in biological anthropology, from a very prestigious university in the UK, and a Bachelors in biology from a university in Greece. Apart from this, I only have limited work experience in conservation research (<6 months).

I am in a very stressful place right now, due to the uncertainty and the lack of current employment - I expect to be unemployed in the near future, unless I get a job in the tourist industry for this spring/summer season. This might seem strange to some, but my qualifications mean next to nothing due to the high unemployment rates here.

Thus, the question.

What should my next step be? How should I approach the move?

I was considering writing to relevant departments in universities, zoos, natural history museums, etc.

  • Should I do this, even if they do not advertise positions
  • Should I ask for postdoctoral employment or let them now I am fine with working in other, less specialised positions as well?
  • What outcome should I expect from this?

Anyway, I am open to any suggestions, and hope to learn from your experience. Please ask me for more information, if you need any.

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First let me express my sympathy for having to endure the brutalization Greece has been undergoing by Capitalism generally, and the EU, Germany and the banks particularly. It saddens me to learn that academics have to move out across the globe to avoid material want.

My background for the sake of this answer: I'm a post-doc in Europe, and I moved out of my country a while after concluding my PhD. I differ from your case in that I'm in Computer Science, and I worked in industry for 3 years between my PhD and my post-doc; and my current research does not continue what I did in my PhD.

To the point, though:

  • The fact that you only speak English (in addition to Greek) should not dissuade you from considering moving elsewhere. This is true even for your girlfriend, but is definitely true for you as an academic. Academia is much more accommodating to people who don't speak the local language (although I guess it might not be as cosmopolitan in Zoology as it is in Comp Sci; can't say for certain).

    Specifically, some European cities have large numbers of expatriates, patriated immigrants, or migrant/guest workers, who don't speak the local language - and the most common language they're likely to use is English. Plus, you have Greek expat communities in a bunch of places. So Britain is not at all your only option. As an extreme example, I live in Amsterdam, at which - so I'm told - 1 in every 4 residents is not Dutch-born. Just tomorrow there's a large Expatriate fair.

  • With apologies to the British, I know that the UK has cut funding to academia tremendously over the past several years. In some places, entire departments are closing. I might be overstating this since I don't follow UK academic affairs much, but that's what the rumors say. Plus, now there's Brexit, so Britain is likely to lose access to some EU research budgets.

  • Try to find a place to work rather than a country or region. Figure out which universities, research centers, or zoos (?) have activities / research groups which you believe you could be part of, and apply to them. Yes, all of them, or at least many of them. Some will not reply, some will reject you outright, some will be indecisive, and some will interview you.

    When you have one or more concrete job offers, your perspective will change quite a bit. You might decide not to accept, but at least you'll have a good idea of what you're giving up (which means you'll need a good idea of what you're giving it up for).

  • You're in a very stressful place right now, but realize that the fact that you're under stress is clouding your judgement and may lead you to the wrong choice. I remember how stressed out I was during my period of unemployment at the end of my PhD when I was no longer had the pseudo-salary (a.k.a. research stipend) coming in; and when I wasn't sure I would find work, and what kind, and thinking about my limited savings being eaten away every day. Not a fun experience. But - try to think about it this way: Suppose your future self has loaned your current self a relatively large sum of money. Now you have a(n imaginary) financial cushion; use it to be more patient and try to choose the best option for you and your spouse, career-and-life-wise. Granted, you can't know in advance what that ease, but you must allow yourself a bit of breathing space.

    Remember that while moving to another country takes time and effort, and is quite stressful - if it doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world. I'm going to move on after my current post-doc to someplace else (haven't figured out exactly where yet). The second time you do you'll be a lot less stressed out than the first.

  • Another point regarding looking for employment: You need to contact specific researchers, as in people, no less, or even more, than sources of funding. And even if someone can't/won't hire you they're not unlikely to give you good advice.

    On that note, have you talked to your PhD advisor? To faculty you've collaborated with on research? They could point you in some directions and/or put you in touch with their colleagues abroad (in Britain or elsewhere).

  • If you have more specific questions about life abroad as an expat, in the UK (you do mean Britain, right? Not North Ireland I'm guessing) - head over to expats.stackexchange.com which is another useful site on this network.

  • Have you thought about short/mid-term employment as a professional Zoologist or Biologist, rather than a researcher, outside of Academia? In the equivalent of what we in Engineering disciplines would call "the industry"? That's also a kind of an option.

That's what I got for now, I hope it helps.

  • Thank you very much for taking the time to write down all this advise. It is vastly helpful, especially now that I have just graduated and been stressing out tremendously. I have been contacting people, and will be applying to any relevant job opening I encounter. I am giving myself a couple months to look for jobs in the UK only, and if this doesn't turn out well I will be exploring possibilities elsewhere. Once again, thank you for all the advise. I am reading it again and again, and find it extremely helpful! – Isovitis Mar 25 '17 at 8:50

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