By Helen De Cruz
If the comment threads are any guideline, a sizable portion of readers of the Philosophers' Cocoon are Americans, who probably concentrate on the American job market. With a tightening job market in the US, many have looked at Europe (as well as other non-American locations) to widen their search.
I've got a tenure-line assistant professorship at the VU Amsterdam, which is in The Netherlands (my PhD is also from a Dutch faculty, the University of Groningen). I have also worked for a total of three years in the UK (University of Oxford), and for another four years in Belgium (University of Leuven). I've witnessed many job searches in these departments, applied for several jobs, and was on the search committee of one job search (in Oxford). This blogpost is meant to give Americans and other non-European philosophers a sense of how European job markets operate.
First thing to note: there is no such thing as the "European job market".
European job searches for permanent faculty members aren't seasonally orchestrated, as they are the US - instead, jobs are advertised all year round. This is even the case for British universities. Increasingly, European universities - especially those that are research-oriented - are advertising on Philjobs and almost all advertise on the mailinglist Philos-L, maintained by the University of Liverpool; for the UK market, jobs.ac.uk is very important. For some European universities/countries, one almost never sees jobs advertised in international fora. I think it's safe to conclude that these do not recruit foreigners.
The recruitment process itself differs between European countries. The UK system is notably minimalistic, with just one round of interviews (with about 6 candidates shortlisted per position), and several, usually all, candidates being evaluated on the same day. You give a 30-min job talk and a structured 20-30 minute interview (everyone gets the same or highly similar questions); that's it. You can see some other candidates sitting in the waiting room. You sometimes all have lunch together. The decision is made and communicated very quickly, often within the week. The Belgian jobs I've interviewed for and seen people interview for involve giving a guest class to students and a structured interview, the Dutch jobs may have a first round on Skype and a mini-on campus lasting several hours as a second round.
Although some universities have created tenure-track positions, the systems of tenure and promotion in Europe are unlike the US system. Typically, one gets a permanent position after a relatively short probationary period (ranging from 6 months to 2 years). The levels of seniority and the system of promotion differs for each country. In the UK, there are lecturers, senior lecturers, and full professors (the title "Professor" is typically only given to full professors). However, given that this is sometimes awkward for UK faculty members to collaborate with Americans and apply for American funding, some UK universities have adopted the American nomenclature, this is the reason, I was told, that Oxford has granted all its permanent tutorial fellows the title "Associate Professor". In the Netherlands, there are two ranks of assistant professor - Universitair Docent II (for a beginning professor), and Universitair Docent I (for someone with significant postdoctoral experience upon hiring, this is the rank I have), two ranks of associate professor, and one rank of full professor.
How does one get promoted? This differs from country to country. In the Netherlands, for instance, one can be in principle an assistant professor until one's retirement as there is no standardized procedure for promotion. This has upsides, as one gets stability early in one's career (typically after two years' probation, which is not as strenuous as a tenure review process), but downsides too, as some people only get promotion slowly or even never get promoted. The main route in The Netherlands to promotion is winning a big national grant (from the NWO scheme), or international grant (from the European Research Council). Since these grants have dwindling success rates, so too the chance of a fairly quick and certain promotion decrease (see this post by Eric Schliesser for a critique of this system).
As Elisa Freschi has pointed out on this blog, grants are vastly more important in Europe than in the US. When Marcus said, in one of the comment threads here, that he never received a grant or scholarship, I had to think about the stark contrast with Europe, where obtaining grants is almost a sine qua non if you hope to obtain a permanent position. Given that tenure track positions are rare, the permanent positions in Europe are typically for quite senior people who have already shown evidence of winning external research funding. This is especially the case in Germany, where postdocs languish on temporary positions until their late thirties or early forties before they can land a coveted chair position, or are forced to find another employment.
Grant writing is a whole separate skill a postdoc (or even a PhD student) needs to master if he or she wants to obtain a permanent position. And once you do get such a position, you are typically expected to apply for national research funding on an annual basis. This is especially so since some countries have cut in funding for universities (the UK and the Netherlands for instance), so if researchers want to have research time, PhD students, or postdocs, they need to apply for grants. Moral: if you do not like the idea of applying for grants on a rolling basis, the European job market that I'm aware of is probably not a long-term solution for you.
Given the structure of large national grants in many European countries (Germany, the UK, Belgium, Austria, The Netherlands), many European PhD holders find employment as postdocs on other people's projects. This beats being an adjunct (although there are increasingly more adjuncts in Europe too, or as they're called in the UK, "stipendiary lecturers"), since a European postdoc offers benefits like pension etc and a decent wage. However, it is difficult to build out an autonomous research agenda and I've known people increasingly unhappy, moving from postdoc to postdoc, not knowing if they would ever get a permanent position. Personal grants for postdocs are very competitive, for instance, the British Academy postdoctoral fellowship (for humanities and social sciences) has only a 5% success rate.
I would say on the whole that European junior PhD holders tend to be more dependent on senior professors than in the US. The fact that most people go through at least one, and often, multiple postdoc positions where they are usually employed on someone else's project means less academic freedom than in a tenure track. In Germany, in particular, senior professors have a lot of power over junior colleagues. In the Netherlands, assistant and associate professors tend to do a lot of the supervision of PhD students, but only full professors get credit for it, i.e., have the ius promovendi (if that situation strikes you as unfair, please consider signing this petition). On the whole, the system is much more hierarchical than in the US.
Wages are typically less variable in European universities than in American universities. For instance, Dutch universities have one collective agreement that standardizes pay according to steps and scales, with predetermined annual salary increases. In the UK, universities have fixed payscales for each grade that you can find on their website. You can't negotiate beyond the limits of the pay scale, so the main thing in negotiating is getting on the appropriate scale and step. Other things like pension, maternity leave, and teaching load are pretty fixed. Maternity leave, for instance, is usually state-regulated (e.g., 16 weeks, with an allowance paid out by the government in The Netherlands).
Finally, another big culture difference (there are undoubtedly more that have escaped my notice) is that in several European countries, such as Germany, Austria, Finland, and Poland, you need a habilitation, a kind of doctorate after your doctorate, to be eligible for a permanent position. The habilitation takes 4 to 10 years and can consist of several articles or a book. Unlike the PhD, which still has significant guidance of a supervisor, the habilitation needs to be conducted independently, and the standard of scholarship is higher than for the PhD. In several of these countries there are positions that allow you to work on the habilitation, a sort of tenure-track positions, except that there is usually no tenure at the end, and so, no guarantee that all this work is going to pay off! Since I have not worked in a country where the habilitation was required, I don't know how this standard is applied when recruiting experienced foreigners.