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Back from a postdoc in London

E. Jardin & C. Schoch

After a postdoc at the Imperial College in London, Marion Pommet is now a graduate teaching fellow at the University of Evry Val d' Essonne.

1/ What made you go to Great Britain?
I followed my husband who was going to work in London. I figured it was an excellent opportunity to do a postdoc.

2/ Were you able to find funding before leaving?
No, I left with nothing. Once I got there, I looked for a job by surfing the websites of major universities and companies I might be interested in. The www.jobs.ac.uk website also lists a number of postdoc openings. In four months, I identified four offers that matched my profile.

3/ How did you put together your applications?
All I needed was a resume and a cover letter. Fortunately, I had recently taken part in a workshop on writing resume and cover letter in English during an American Chemistry Society meeting. Sometimes certain recruiters ask for a one-page summary of your career plan as well.

4/ What was the recruitment procedure like?
In front of small panels made up of three or four researchers heading the project, you have to present your academic career so far and what you can contribute to the research project in no more than 10 to 20 minutes (a PowerPoint presentation should be prepared). This is followed by a series of questions, which are usually scientific and technical in nature.

5/ According to what criteria were you selected at Imperial College?
My doctorate, that's for sure, because they wanted a PhD. My area of specialty, too, because my host institution was looking for an expert on biodegradable materials. I have a PhD in physical chemistry and natural polymers biochemistry. I did my thesis on the development of biodegradable materials made from wheat gluten at an INRA research lab in the framework of a CIFRE agreement with the AMLYUM group, a subsidiary of Tate & Lyle.
I had also applied for another sustainability-oriented postdoc that was more methodological, and I was also selected.

6/ So you had a choice between two postdocs?
Yes, which wasn't easy to deal with, in fact, because I didn't get both positive answers at the same time. I had to ask one research lab to wait for the answer from the other whose research project interested me more.

7/ Do you feel you had a good command of English?
I must admit it was pretty bad! I could hold a conversation in English at a secondary school level, but I didn't always understand what people said to me and I expressed myself very haltingly. But I had a good mastery of scientific vocabulary from doing bibliographical research, since scientific articles are always in English.

8/ When you started at the British research lab, how did you find it compared to your French research lab?
Basically, very few differences in the way it was managed and in terms of equipment. One big difference is the concentration of work stations in a single, open space and having no technician.

9/ What was your salary like?
I definitely earned more money in the UK, but watch out: the cost of living in London is very high. The price of food is 1.5 times higher and rents are two to three times higher. It's better to go as a couple if you hope to live in downtown London, or find a roommate.

10/ Were there a lot of postdoc researchers at your lab at Imperial College?
No, I was the only postdoc, but it was a new, expanding lab. On the other hand, there were tons of PhD candidates from all parts of the world and lots of interns.

11/ How do you feel about your postdoc experience?
I immensely appreciated this very enriching professional experience. My boss gave me lots of responsibility for directing the research project and for supervising several interns, ranging from defining their internship subject to evaluating them during their defense.
To tell the truth, I had a feeling of fully exercised the functions of a researcher and was considered as one. I was a real colleague.

12/ How long did you stay at Imperial College?
A year and a half. I started with a one-year contract renewable for three years. It was renewed once, and then I left in the middle of my contract. The lab researchers wanted to me to stay, and in terms of financing, there was no real problem.

13/ It's often hard to come home. How was it for you?
The main thing is not to lose touch with your network in France. During my whole time in London, I kept in contact with my doctoral research lab. I sent e-mails, I called people on the phone. I told them what I was up to and where I stood. I also looked at job offers in France that came up on the Association Bernard Gregory website www.abg.asso.fr , and on the Emploi Scientifique en France website as well www.emploi-scientifique.fr .

14/ What was your purpose in coming back?
I wanted to do research in the public or private sector. I looked at openings through competitive exams and other job offers, but I didn't find anything in my field, so I came back with a graduate teaching fellowship. It's fairly easy to find one when there is no in-house applicant at the university you’re applying to. And with a postdoc experience, you have an advantage over applicants who have just finished their thesis. That's definitely an asset.

Oh, I forgot! To send in graduate teaching fellowship applications, you have to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, but in Great Britain, there aren't any French stamps! That's just a little detail to keep in mind.

15/ Are you glad you came back to France?
Yes... and no. From a personal standpoint, I always wanted to come back for a simple reason: the food! From a professional standpoint, I was lucky to have an excellent position in Great Britain. With my fellowship, I get the feeling I've regressed a little bit in terms of the responsibilities that I'm given.

16/ Do you feel you've come back as a student?
Not as a student, I wouldn't go that far, but as an intern, yes.

17/ What does the future hold?
I want to find a more permanent job that corresponds better to my aspirations.
The teaching fellowship has given me the teaching experience I need to apply for a job as a lecturer. And it's important to remain active and keep a foot inside a lab to be better informed of positions that might open up.