A few years later?

E. Jardin & C. Schoch

Why go abroad? What will a stay in the United States do for you? Should you return to France or not? For what kind of job? Eight biology PhDs, all members of Biodocs International, who left in the 2000 for the United States, tell their story.

What were their initial motivations? For those who wanted to go into academia: publish as lead author in Nature, Science or Cell and so "find a good lab," recalls Corentin Cras-Méneur. Or open up to new fields: "I wanted to work on biofilms from the genetic and molecular perspective because in France, they weren't very many labs specialized in it," explains Christine Toutain. Frank Yates wanted to "work on embryonic stem cells whereas it wasn’t yet possible in France." As for Stéphanie, her postdoc was an opportunity to switch research topics.

Why choose the United States?
"It could've been Canada or Scotland," Corentin recalls, "but many highly rated labs in biology are in the United States, so it's not surprising that out of 307 university lecturers recruited in 2006 in the sciences and pharmacy that had done a postdoc," 75 had chosen the United States, compared to 44 for Germany and 39 for the United Kingdom. And then there are those who leave to discover a culture or other work methods... This was the case for Rosalie Maurisse and Dominique Blanchet. For all of them, they knew they would come away from the postdoc with a command of English. Cyril Berthet: "I went for the English language experience, new work methods and to form an international network."

Whatever your motivations, be very demanding in the choice of lab (see advice page). Latif Rachdi started out in a lab in New York. The city was fantastic, but he regretted "not having made the rounds of the pals" and had to change topic and city along the way because after a year and a half, he wasn't getting published. Don't be shy, Corentin advises, because "French postdocs are sought after by American labs," which gives them bargaining power.

Once you're there
The atmosphere is very different from one lab to the next. Latif was unlucky. Stéphanie remembers the pressure and the stress that mounted before each "lab meeting” every other month, since postdocs are in the hot seat. Cyril learned "international level competition, the efficiency that goes together with it in the quality of the publications that follow." Rosalie, not motivated by academic research from the start, devoted herself headlong into extra-professional activities of which there is no lack in San Francisco. As for Dominique, who saw himself in a pharmaceutical company, he went on a private sector postdoc. Christine warns that you shouldn't do a postdoc in order to postpone career orientation decisions. If you want to go into academia, the lab's prestige and the guarantee of being able to do "good science" and published in rank A journals is essential. If you want to go into the private sector, you can either "choose labs that have contacts with companies," Christine advises, or go directly into a company, as Dominique did, but the usual visa (H1B) is extremely hard to get. Geographical area is very important, Christine explains: "Boston is more academic than San Francisco."

The return
Since her marriage to an American, Christine has settled definitively in New Hampshire where she does research in a medical school. Corentin, who went to the United States in 2002, is still there with his French wife, also a researcher, and their little girl. Do they intend to stay? No, "we want to go back to Europe." And what about France? "We're realistic: there aren't very many opportunities even if we are in contact with lab directors in both the public and private sector in diabetology that we meet in scientific conferences."

Stéphanie, Frank, Latif, Rosalie, Dominique and Cyril have all settled back in France. Where? The first three in the academic world. Stéphanie, the only one with a permanent contract in the public sector, is a junior researcher [CR2 ] in a different CNRS lab than where she did her thesis. Frank and Latif are at INSERM  on five-year public service contracts. Rosalie is a project manager at the Medicen competitive cluster. Dominique is a research officer Cancéropôle. Cyril is pre-clinical trial manager and project manager at Oncodesign. Whether they are in the public or the private sector, all of them have remained in the field of medical research. Were they better than the others, before the postdoc? Maybe, but their success is more likely due to the fact that they didn't just keep their nose to the bench: they got involved in Biodocs International, they kept informed via Le fil de Marianne newsletter, they kept their network going when they back to France. By lucky coincidence, Rosalie and Cyril got together for the CREMEC project (Resource Center for Experimental Cancer Models), one of the first projects approved by Medicen.