Kafka in the stars

#job

This is a cautionary tale, with the hope that this post could help future applicants for permanent academic positions in France.

This past month, I’ve had the pleasure of applying for maître de conférences jobs – roughly equivalent to something between assistant/associate professor. It turned out to be a singularly more complicated process than I expected. The actual scientific part of the application was not too taxing, as I already had to do it when I applied for a chargé de recherche (“junior scientist”) job at CNRS in December, and my research statements, CV… didn’t change much since then. The administrative part was the kafkaesque part.

Qualification

The first step in the application process is the qualification. This is a legal requirement, and obtaining it roughly says “this applicant is a real applicant”. You have to send in your thesis, your CV, your papers… to a number of referees (for me it was two) chosen by the ministry or the CNU (national council of universities), I’m not sure, who then decide whether you are “qualified” to apply for an associate professor job or not.

The ministry’s website is rather messy, with information spread all around the place. Some information is also on other websites, such as the section of the CNU for which you want to obtain the qualification. It was not easy to determine exactly which papers I needed to send, to whom, and how. In the end, I had to send only some of the papers via a website named GALAXIE (hence the title of this post), run by the ministry. The others I had to send directly to the referees by email. It’s still not clear to me why uploading them to the website was not acceptable: there was a form for uploading them, but on the PDF hidden in the ministry’s website, it said that for section 25 (pure math), one needs to send the papers directly to the referees… To be safe, I did both.

This process also needs to be done very early. For example, to apply for jobs in 2018, one needs to register in GALAXIE at the end of October 2017 at the latest. Then the papers needed to be sent to the referees by mid-December. The results were supposed to come in “at the end of February”. Indeed, I got the email stating I received the qualification on February 28th, at 8PM! But when I looked on GALAXIE’s website, the results were apparently known by the ministry since the end of January… This matters later.

Job applications

Then there is the job application process in itself. France is a very centralized country, and applying to permanent positions in academia does not escape this. As mentioned earlier, there is this website called GALAXIE which is meant to centralize all kind of applications: permanent positions (associate or full professor), the qualification process mentioned above, but also some kinds of postdoc positions (namely ATER, attaché temporaire d’enseignement et de recherche), academic teaching positions called PRAG and PRCE, getting pay raises once you have a permanent position, etc.

However, at some point, something went horribly wrong.

Indeed, this website is supposed to centralize everything. You have to go through it to do anything. When applying for a permanent position, by law, the papers you need to send to the university must always be exactly the same. Finding the list of these papers is already not an easy task. This list is only written in the law defining the maître de conférences statute – I’ll let you read it. I already felt lucky at this point because French is my native language, and I can’t imagine what it’s like if you don’t speak French. In case someone stumbles upon this post later, the list of required documents is as follows:

  • the “candidacy declaration”, which you have to download from GALAXIE, sign, and then return – more on this one later;
  • proof of identity;
  • copy of PhD diploma;
  • a curriculum vitae with an “analytic presentation” of your works;
  • a copy of the PhD defense report, something that is written up the day of your defense in the French system and read aloud by the president of the jury to make official that you are now a doctor, outlining the reasons why the jury considers that you are fit for the degree etc.

That’s it. You are forbidden (by law!) from sending anything else. HR will check and only send to the committee the allowed documents. If you get selected for an audition, then you will be able to send the committee a copy of the works mentioned in the CV, but nothing else.

Then you need to find out where to actually send these documents. This is where the fun begins. You might think: they built a website (GALAXIE) to centralize everything, and the documents are exactly the same for all job applications. So you should just be able to send the documents once to GALAXIE and be done with it, right?

Wrong. Every university handles this part of the process on their own, it’s not centralized anymore. They get to choose whether they want to receive the documents by physical mail, email, or a specific website. This last option was chosen by all universities I applied to except one (who wanted an email). Every university has apparently cooked up some website for sending the documents, almost always very difficult to use and with no clues as to whether you’re doing it right or not. So I had to do the following thing eight different times: find out the URL of the website; create an account there; re-enter all my personal data into the website; figure out how to upload the required documents (always the same ones); print out the “candidacy declaration” from GALAXIE, sign it, scan it, and upload it again; figure out if I’m done with the application or if I need to press one more hidden button; cross my fingers and hope I didn’t make any mistake.

And of course, there were problems. As mentioned before, you need to have received the “qualification” to even be considered as a potential applicant. However, the results came in rather late, on February 28th. So I got back messages from several universities stating that my application was not admissible, as I hadn’t received the qualification yet. I had to send emails to HR every time to explain the situation (you’d think it happens more often than that) to get them to unblock my application and let me upload the “candidacy declaration” with the qualification number when I got it. One university had a deadline for application that was before I even got the results, so I received last week a very urgent-sounding email telling me to upload my documents again, before midnight, or else I wouldn’t be allowed to apply. Needless to say, that was a bit stressful… Fortunately, my application was declared admissible everywhere and will at least be sent to the committee. I know someone who had their application rejected with no possibility of appeal because they forgot to upload their ID…

Then there are the required documents. Some are straightforward: ID, copy of diploma, “candidacy declaration”. Some are more subtle. For example, I discovered that the CV isn’t just a CV. Indeed, you may have noticed that a research statement isn’t part of the list of legal documents needed for the application. Well, committees still expect you to upload one, apparently as part of the CV, which is somehow an “analytic” description of yourself! (This interpretation of the law sounds rather loose to me, but I don’t make the rules.) Similarly, in France, before you’re allowed to defend your PhD, a number of referees (the rapporteurs) have to read your thesis and send a report to your advisor and eventually to the president of the university, who formally signs off your PhD defense authorization. Well, committes also expect these reports (rapports de pré-soutenance), attached to the PhD defense report which is read aloud on the day of the defense. So I had to create a big PDF file with all the reports together.

Finally, there were the recommendations letters. This part is mentioned literally nowhere on the ministry’s website, the CNU section’s website, or the universities’ recruitment platforms. It turns out that each individual lab defines their own policy regarding recommendation letters. Some labs allow them, some forbid them, and this can change from year to year. After some digging, I found out that some of the labs I applied to allowed them, but for the others, I am still not sure whether or not they do – it’s not mentioned anywhere! So I did what was necessary for the few labs that did mention it, and hope that the others do not require them…

Now I’m waiting for the committees deciding on who gets auditioned. Let’s hope!

PS: Also, a big shout-out to Opération Postes, which centralizes a lot of information about all the available positions. This website was extremely helpful for me.