I’ve spent the last hour talking to one of the people that I met when I traveled to Europe last year. He is a Canadian working in the Netherlands who has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in Switzerland. So I’ve been asking him a lot of questions about how the system there works and what one could expect.
Here in the US, when you become an Assistant Professor you’re on your own. You’re given a lab with some start-up funds and you just have to go for it. You have 5-7 years to sink or swim. If you make it, great you get tenure at that University. If you don’t, you have to find another job somewhere else where you probably will get a lot less money.
In a lot of the European countries the system is a little different. When you come in as an Assistant Professor, you’re not “equal” to the other professor’s in the department. You’re put underneath a Full Professor who will serve as your mentor. You get money from them, as well as use of their instrumentation. They serve as mentors as to where you should apply for funding and help you write your grants – as a trade off, they are listed as an author on any paper that you put out. When you get to the point where you’re “tenure-able” – that is, where you could become the “big guy” on your own – then you apply for tenured positions at OTHER Universities.
Many universities in Europe don’t want you to stay, because they like to encourage growth and growth in science has a lot to do with moving around and getting to know other people’s research (There are however options to stay if that is something that you want, but generally leaving is encouraged). To get to this point also takes around 5-7 years. After which you could move somewhere else around the world to continue your research – including going back to the US if one were so inclined.
I’ve always wanted to live abroad, and think that doing my Assistant Professorship in Europe would provide me that experience – as well, I thinks doing my tenure research in a slightly less stressed out, neurotic environment would be a bonus. The idea of having a mentor guide me through my Assistant Professor years sounds fantastic. Also, most of the Universities in Europe (at least the major research institutes) work in English – so I wouldn’t even need to worry about learning a foreign language immediately (though I would see that as an added benefit).
Seeing that I have no husband or kids or anything else to really tie me down to the US, I’m definitely considering this as a viable option for the future. I’m not sure how retirement or anything like that would go – or even what the salaries would look like – but I’m sure they are comparable to the US salary scale.
The idea of this is very exciting, we’ll see what positions are available next year when I start applying!