Thursday, 27 March 2008

My First French Demonstration

Today I got to experience my first demonstration, it wasn't a full on strike, just a gathering of people expressing their displeasure at the government's proposals. It was a researchers demonstration outside the front of the CNRS headquarters in Paris. The CNRS is the organisation in charge of research and allocating funding, kind of like the ARC in Australia. Because it was just researchers it was a pretty tame demonstration, nothing like the agriculture students who demonstrated yesterday and so bought a whole stack of cows into Paris. I think we need to bring a few lasers and some liquid nitrogen along next time to liven things up. It was a little disappointing that there weren't more people there, particularly more PhD students, as the proposed changes will affect them the most.

At the moment science in France is awesome, it is well funded (extremely well-funded), well organised and run by scientists, which is the complete opposite from the Australian academic system. The proposed changes would make the French system more like the one in Australia, where people have to apply for grants every couple of years, and nobody has permanent positions. I just look at what they have in France and you want to shake the PhD students to make them see how good they have it and how they should protect it, because once the system is gone there is no returning.

One of the main reasons I'm leaving academia at the end of this year is the poor system in Australia, you are paid like a public servant, but you have absolutely no job security. Can you imagine public servants having to reapply for their jobs every 3 years, in fact it is worse than just reapply, it is like every 3 years the government downsizes and you have to try and convince them as to why they should keep employing you over the other public servants. In the French system though if you want to become an academic you will, eventually, be given a permanent position, it is fairly rare to miss out. What is changing a little now is the length of time spent doing post-docs before you get that permanency. About 40 years ago you could get a permanent position straight away, no post-doctoring required, but now you do have to spend at least 2-3 years doing a post-doc before you can even attempt to go for permanency. I think the only change they should make to the academic system is perhaps get people to do maybe 2 postdocs (ie 4-6 years) before applying for permanency. I think post-docs are a great idea for academics, they force you to move, you do different things in different labs and they just generally make you a much better scientist. At the moment the only problem with the French system is that it is perhaps a little too easy for the academics, but really I would much prefer too easy than impossible.

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