Scientists in the World
Academic Research in France
Written by Isabelle
Are you about to finish your PhD in Germany (or anywhere else) and currently looking for your next job?
Perhaps you’ve found some appealing job announcements for positions in France, but you first want to know more about the French academic system. In this article, we will describe how the French academic system works and opportunities it can offer.
Briefly, France has a long history of scientific and academic excellence and is home to many world-renowned research institutions and universities. French scientists have won numerous Nobel Prizes in various fields of science and some of the most notable laureates include Pierre and Marie Curie, Jacques Monod, Henri Becquerel, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, and Serge Haroche.
What is the academic research landscape in France and how is it organized?
Academic research in France is mainly conducted in public research institutions (i.e. CNRS, INSERM) and universities. They are funded by the French government but rely also on additional sources, such as European Union research programs, private foundations and industry partnerships, to support their research activities. The funding is used to support research activities including direct funding for research projects, salaries for non-permanent researchers and technicians, and maintenance of research infrastructure. Researchers from French institutions and universities usually serve on committees and are also involved in outreach activities to promote science and mentor students. Life-long permanent positions are obtained after a very selective process, which then gives a certain level of job security and allows the researcher to carry out projects that are more ambitious. It is the goal to reach if you want to pursue an academic career in France.
The career paths are similar for research institutions and universities: You start as “chargé de recherches” (researcher) at a research institute or “Maitre de Conférences” (assistant professor) in universities and eventually progress to become “directeur de recherche” (senior researcher, a group leader without professorship) at a research institute or “professeur” in universities.
In terms of research institutes, there are two main research institutions in France: the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM). These institutions are responsible for funding and supporting research projects across a wide range of disciplines. Besides these two main research institutions, other institutions with a more functional role exist in specialized fields such as the Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) and the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).
For universities, permanent positions are given to assistant professors and professors. Here, in addition to their research activities, they are also required to fulfill other obligations with at least 192 h/year dedicated to teaching, organization of bachelor, master and PhD programmes, and other administrative tasks.
Additionally, in France, there are a lot of collaborations (“cotutelle”) that result in the creation of mixed units of researchers funded by the university and by other institutions like INSERM or CNRS.
How to find a postdoc position in France?
Information about postdoctoral positions in France can generally be found on the websites of the recruiting institutions. Here are some tips on how to find a position:
- Find laboratories who share your research of interest - You can use search engines such as Google Scholar or ResearchGate to find researchers working in your field in France.
- Contact lab leaders - You should always contact them to find out when they can recruit new lab members and if they already have funding for you or if you have to apply for a grant.
- Check available positions - Many universities and research institutions post available positions on their websites or on online job boards such as (international websites) Nature Careers and FENS job market, and (national websites) ANR and INSERM. Also, remember to check their social media accounts! Besides that, there is also the website of Association Bernard Gregory (ABG) which has an online portal for jobs, training, and networking events.
How to be funded as a postdoc?
As a young researcher, you can benefit from grants or stipends funded by several funding agencies that offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships to researchers looking to conduct research in France. Even in the case of fellowships, money is transferred to the institute establishing the employment contract that includes the right to social security. These fellowships include, but are not limited to, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions and Human Frontier Science Programme. You can apply for them either directly or through your hosting institution.
You can also be funded by research grants obtained by your future PI from various sources, such as the French National Research Agency (ANR), European Research Council (ERC), or the European Union Horizon 2020 program. For example, the main French funding agency, ANR, ends its selection process every year in July, which is when PIs know whether they will have funding to hire a postdoc to start in October.
Another possibility is to be funded by a foundation with examples such as Fyssen Foundation, ARC Foundation, FRM Foundation, France Foundation, Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, Institut Pasteur Foundation etc.
Lastly, you can check research programmes of the Deutsch Französische Hochschule, which helps and supports French and German students during their careers, before, during, and after the PhD.
What’s the difference between France and Germany as a postdoc?
There are a lot of similarities so you won’t be lost in the lab. Apart from weekly meetings with mandatory attendance for all members, the schedule is flexible and time dedicated to experimentation, analysis, and interpretation are left to the discretion of each. As both countries are members of the European Union, the same rules decided by the European Commission must be applied concerning the safety in laboratories, the use of biological models etc.
However, in France, there are more frequent evaluations of laboratories to determine their quality level, which will have an impact on their funding. Every 5 years, each lab undergoes an evaluation by an external committee deciding the rank based on the quality of the lab. If you get a good rank, you will get a good endowment, but if this is not the case, you will receive less funding.
Additionally, in France, there are fewer possibilities for postdocs to get their own funding because there are fewer offers for inter- and extra-mural funding.
Last but not least, transitioning from academia to industry is also not as easy in France, where in addition to the academic world, there are engineering schools (also known as “grandes écoles”). These schools offer undergraduate and graduate programs in various fields of engineering. Students from those schools have the preferred profile to work in industry and that creates a competition between engineers and PhD holders. Nevertheless, as there are few permanent positions in academia, more and more people are applying to jobs in industry and their more atypical profile do interests recruiters.
ANR funded projects: https://anr.fr/en/funded-projects-and-impact/funded-projects/
ERC funded projects: https://erc.europa.eu/projects-figures/project-database
Nature Careers: www.nature.com/naturecareers/
FENS job market: www.fens.org/careers/job-market
EURAXESS open positions: https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/jobs
Association Bernard Gregory: www.abg.asso.fr/en/
Fondation pour la recherche médicale: www.frm.org/en
Fyssen Foundation: www.fondationfyssen.fr/en/
France Foundation: www.fondationdefrance.org/en/homepage
Bettencourt Schueller Foundation: www.fondationbs.org/en
Institute Pasteur Foundation: www.pasteur.fr/en
Deutsch Französische Hochschule: www.dfh-ufa.org/en/?noredirect=en_US
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions: https://marie-sklodowska-curie-actions.ec.europa.eu/
Human Frontier Science Program: www.hfsp.org/