If you loved writing and defending your Ph.D. dissertation,

then get an academic job in France.  They make you write and defend another thesis, after the Ph.D.  It’s called the habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR), which I guess means “qualification to direct research.” As I understand it (i.e., not very well), you need to get it before you’re allowed to supervise Ph.D. students.  My colleague here in Paris just had his today.  He’s actually supervised Ph.D. students before, so it must be possible to get around that requirement, but I guess you need to get this certification to climb the academic ladder.

At first this sounded kind of cruel to me, but actually, I’d gladly have signed up to write another dissertation rather than go through the tenure process at U.R.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

One thought on “If you loved writing and defending your Ph.D. dissertation,”

  1. The Habilitation exists in several countries, not just France. Originally, it
    was an unpublished article demonstrating your prowess. Then it involved
    into a thesis, complete with other requirements such as teaching
    experience, defending it etc. It is supposed to be more work than a
    doctorate. There are some positions where doing it is part of the deal,
    like for doctoral positions.

    Your last paragraph makes it sound like habilitation leads automatically
    to a permanent job. It is sometimes a necessary, but never a sufficient,

    Many countries don’t have a tenure-track system. Thus, what is the
    criterion for awarding someone a professorship? The Habilitation is used
    as a requirement. People with a Habilitation, but not a permanent
    professorship, could become a Privatdozent. They are allowed to teach,
    and are required to in order to retain the title, but aren’t paid for it. In the
    old days, they collected money from the students, thus the “privat” as
    opposed to paid by the government.

    The lack of a tenure-track system is a huge disadvantage, in my view.
    In the old days, with few candidates and many jobs, it wasn’t as big a
    problem. Now, it means being a postdoc and moving around for years in
    the HOPE of landing a permanent job sometime. Most don’t. I prefer
    tenure-track systems.

    Germany is gradually moving away from the Habilitation. The idea is to
    replace it with something called a Juniorprofessor. Sounds like an
    embarrassment, but is really something like assistant professor. Except,
    usually, no tenure track. With more foreign candidates, for a long time
    the habilitation has no longer been an official requirement, if there are
    equivalent qualifications.

    The biggest difference between the States and Europe, though, is the huge
    number of small (not just in size) colleges in the States. If you come from
    a prestigious institution, if all else fails you can become a professor at
    Cornfield College and at least hang on to something like you imagined
    your career could be. In Europe, it’s basically up or out.

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