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06/02/2022

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UK PhD

I can speak mainly for the UK because other European countries operate very differently:

1. It is rare to get a permanent lectureship right out of the PhD (though it does happen). More common is to do a few years as a post doc (ideally) or (more commonly) as a fixed-term teaching fellow which can be anywhere from 1-3 years long. Many people do several of these before landing a permanent job (or giving up).

2. Yes (see above). Many people limit themselves to Europe, but moving is common.

3. There is no tenure in the UK so in that sense, less job security. Universities can downsize or cut departments with little recourse (see Roehampton right now). But in the Russell Group, it's unlikely. If it does happen, there aren't a ton of academic jobs in philosophy, so yeah, it would be hard to find another one (about as hard as finding yoru first one).

4. Poor pay, lots more bureaucracy than in the US, little to no teaching autonomy, a culture of education as a commodity and students as consumer, obsession with student 'satisfaction'.

5. You can be promoted due to accomplishments in research. Doesn't need to be an open position.

I don't know the answers to 6 & 7

Tammo

I can't answer all of these questions, but maybe a few of these pointers are helpful:

There's a greater variety of job types in Europe. Many will offer less job security, because they are not tenure track. As a German, I like to complain that we do not have a tenure track system. That will also mean that you probably will need to move around...

One type of job that can potentially be a good "transitional" is a postdoc in a research project, such as a project funded by the European Research Council. These are often 2 year position with no hard language requirements.

Another thing to consider are postdoc schemes that require application with a developed research project, such as the British Academy scheme. They often require finding a mentor at a European university and developing a proposal with them. It's a lot of work to submit these applications (you can't use your standard materials, for the most part), but it may allow you to work where you want and on the topic you want.

In general, I highly recommend subscribing to the Philos-L mailing list, where many of the internationally oriented jobs will be advertised (and pretty much all British jobs). You'll also get a good sense of what kind of jobs exist in Europe by searching their archive with keywords like "job" or "postdoc".

But Those Who Like European Academia Will Find That It Is The Sort Of Thing They Like

The answer to 1-3 is yes, in my experience and those of other European philosophers of my generation (finished PhD late last decade).

My own case:

(a) 17 publications, with a mix of quite low/medium/top ranking journals + several in edited volumes.

(b) Prestigious supervisor + quite prestigious PhD programme. PhD finished on time.

(c) Typical teaching experience for a European PhD student, though that's more like what some undergraduates have already done in the US!

And yet, with respect to your questions:

(1) I have had to move around a lot from one postdoc to another.

(2) First years and beyond, I'm afraid, with no end in sight.

(3) Postdocs are not easy to obtain. Out of dozens of job applications this job market season, I ended up with one interview and (fortunately) one postdoc.

And I'm at the upper levels of things going right for me. Most European philosophers I know have had much less luck with getting things published and/or getting full-time employment. I also know some European postdocs with much, much better CV's than me, who cannot find a permanent job.

If you are open to living in the US long-term, I think that the academic system there is much more appealing than anywhere else. Being 'stuck' in a small American city seems much better to me than moving from one country to another every 12-36 months. Personally, I don't like travelling, especially long distances, and I aspire to live within 8,000 kilometres of my family, so I'm still hoping to land in a permanent job somewhere in Europe.

Anonymous

A related though inverse question, if I may ask it here. But does anyone know if taking a position outside the US hurts your chances in the US job market? I've heard anecdotes to the effect that many US universities and colleges are reluctant to fly out people working overseas, which seems like a big downside to doing a postdoc in Europe, etc., if it's true. So, I'm curious whether those are just spurious rumors or if there's some truth to them.

EuroProf

First of all, there's no answer for how things are done in Europe, because academia works very differently in different European countries. Very. I have spent my career so far in German universities, so this is all I can really say something about.

1. It's very uncommon to get a permanent position right out of your PhD. Job-hopping and moving around for at least a couple of years are the norm.

2. Typically yes. In my experience, most PhD students and PostDocs will have temporary positions lasting 2+2 or 3+3 years. Moving to another position within Germany/Austria/Switzerland is common. Taking on positions in other European countries (mostly UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands) or North America is also quite common, though not as much. And working in a country where neither German nor English is the lingua franca of academia is reserved for passionate specialists.

3. Unfortunately yes, although from what I gather it's not as bad as in the US.

4. Depending on where you are, speaking the language might be a problem. In cities like Berlin and Munich, you'll get along just fine speaking only English. In other places, not so much. Also, bureaucracy - especially if you're not from an EU country.

5. It depends. If you're on a Mitarbeiterstelle (somewhat comparable to assistant professor in the US), your only chance to get ahead is to get another, better position elsewhere. On the other hand, more and more German universities are offering tenure track positions at the PostDoc level where you'll get promoted from associate prof to full prof after some time, provided you're doing well.

6. Not my field, but I'd say yes. There are usually more open positions in applied ethics than in other fields. It's more competitive, though, too.

7. Can't really say something about that. Some of my friends succesfully left academia after their PhD in applied ethics, so I guess it works out for some people. But I have no idea how difficult this is.

RT

As others pointed out, the exact details depend on the particular country, especially for temporary positions. "Tenured" positions are fairly comparable.

I've been a researcher in a few (continental) European countries, always on my own project.

1) Mostly yes. But big hubs (i.e. places with multiple universities, e.g. Paris, Milan, Brussels area) might make it easier to stay put.

2) Mostly yes. But it is possible to get a longer position (e.g. 6 years) or successive postdoctoral funding (e.g. 9 years) all in the same place.

3) Job security (as far as I understand what you mean) is not low. In continental Europe is very hard to fire someone, and you know well in advance when the position ends. At the end of temporary positions, you normally have generous unemployment benefits.
For the equivalent of permanent positions, in some countries you are a protected civil servant, i.e. not employed by the university, and basically unfirable but for serious crimes.

4) Most postdoctoral positions depend on soft money, i.e. grants. There are many good opportunities for junior scholars (<4-5 years after your PhD) to work where you want on what you want, but then they dry up dramatically, and you mostly depend on senior people to get projects to employ you. Not pretty.

5) Depends on the country. Sometimes tenure-track or permanent positions are created for you ex nihilo if you move taking significant funding with you (around 1m, e.g. ERC-SG).

6) I don't know.

7) One problem is that you will almost never speak the local language as well as an equally qualified native, who also knows where to apply, when, etc.

Blues

European assistant prof here with working experience in various European countries and north America, working domain applied ethics.

1.) Yes. It is normal to do various postdocs in Europe (preferably in different countries, according to some grant agencies and research committees) before landing a permanent job. Most people only get permanent positions in Europe with 35 years (very young and rare), or, more frequently, beginning till mid-40ies (when most people are 10-15 years after their PhD...). However, as others have said: there is no such thing as a European system - things vary from one country to another. Probably, in the UK, it is possible to land permanent positions at an academically younger age than, let's say, German speaking countries.

2.) If you want to stay in academia: yes.

3.) If you have a position for one to five years, job security is usually high *during the time of your contract*. However, if you plan on staying in academia and the same city, yes, there is a high risk of unemployment (except if you manage to bring in a big grant that pays for your salary, but as mentioned before, Grant Agencies usually value mobility and it is often one of the selection criteria).

4.) If you move around in different countries, you likely earn different salaries and how much you pay in your pension funds varies, as salaries and living costs varies highly in different European countries. This may have an impact on your retirement funds when you are older. Also, in some European countries, it is unfortunately rather normal to be paid only for 50-60% postdocs position. Your salary will thus be rather low, although in most cases full-time work is expected.

5.) Yes, usually there must be a position to apply to. There is nearly no way to move from an non-permanent position into a permanent one at the same university without having an offer for a professorship from another university. 'Just publishing well' is not enough to advance - it is simply expected and part of your job. However, in some countries you can be promoted to higher ranks once you have a permanent position (e.g. you can be promoted from associate professor to full professor).

6.) I think chances on the global academic job market are better with a specialization in ethics (generally, not necessarily applied ethics) than, say, medieval philosophy, as there are simply more job openings. I am working in applied ethics and I do not think that there are so many more job opportunities than for example in ethics or political philosophy. The advantage of applied ethics is that you can possibily also find positions in medical and other faculties, not only philosophy departments - it thus opens new, and in my opinion, exciting opportunities.

7.) I think it will depend on your network. But yes, transitioning outside of academia is probably easier with a specialization in applied ethics than, say, medieval philosophy.

Another UK Perspective

Here's my Uk-specific take (as others have said, it varies a lot across Europe so hard to give broader answers):
1) Yes, almost all have temporary positions after finishing the PhD. These can be research-focused postdocs on funded projects (your own or someone else's) or teaching fellow positions (akin to a VAP position). Teaching fellow positions vary a lot. Some places are great and don't give excessive teaching loads leaving some time for research. Others carry very high teaching loads. Depends on the departmental needs/approach.
2) Yes, sometimes to 'mainland' Europe, but more frequently around the UK. 2/3 postdocs/teaching fellow positions is normal before a permanent position, and it is also common that those will all be at different unis.
3) If you've got a permanent job, it is secure. There is a possibility of departmental cuts, but this is relatively rare (and almost unheard of at Russell Group unis). No tenure system, but if you secure a permanent job, you are permanent from day one. Getting a permanent post, or another temporary post is hard though, so there is a risk as a temporary position comes to an end.
4) Very general question, but there is more admin than in the US. Less freedom to radically change teaching in some ways. But, this also has a benefit in that there is (in my experience) a lot fewer difficult students to deal with or students complaining about marks etc. (e.g. I don't handle extensions at all - they are handle by our admin team and so student's can't complain about such things to me). No gen ed courses too, so students that are taking philosophy courses have all chosen to do so. Leads to more engaged students on average (from what I've heard at least!). No tenure system - yes we have the REF (whole other thing!) but I'm not under immediate pressure to publish in terms of risking that I might not be granted tenure and lose my job down the line. Pay is lower than in the US, but then so are (some) costs (e.g. NHS - no need for health insurance). Housing costs vary significantly depending on where you are based. London/Oxford/Cambridge are very expensive. Other places, especially as you head north, are cheaper.
5) No. Promotions happen on the basis of various uni-specific (but broadly similar) criteria. I've been an assistant prof for a couple of years. I expect to get promoted to associate in 3/4 years time and can be moved up to full prof sometime after that. The more your research/get grant money/take on senior admin roles, the faster you get promoted. But even just basic performance will (eventually) lead to promotion.
6) Hard to say though anecdotally I've seen lots of jobs going in applied ethics. Philos-L mailing list and jobs.ac.uk are the best places to look for job openings.
7) Don't know - not my areas - sorry.

Hamlet

In Denmark a Lektor position is the equivalent of Associate Professor in the USA - it is a permanent position without a "tenure review". It is expected that one has usually done about six years of post docs before one is really competitive for such a job. So people applying for such jobs should have a publication record equal to someone in the USA applying for tenure. You have to look like your research career is established and moving forward. Also, worth noting, a Danish PhD is smaller, and it is usually limited to three years. There is not a formal structure in place so that one can move seamlessly from Lektor to Professor. And if one wants to teach in the Humanities faculty, then usually one is expected to be fluent in a Scandinavian language.

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