An American Post-Doc in Paris: Settling In

After finishing my dissertation in the fall, I recently moved to Paris to do a post-doc with an HCI research lab. In my first month in France, I’m finally getting the hang of things. If you’re at all interested in studying or researching abroad, here’s a bit of logistical advice to get you off the ground:

As always, networking is the best way to find a position.  Like most post-doc openings, mine was more a matter of meeting my now-boss and agreeing upon a research topic than it was applying to a job opening online.  I did ultimately apply officially online, but I was still able to check in with my contact to see how things were coming along.  And, even if you meet someone who’s not in your field, they may still be able to point you towards colleagues who need research help.

Do not underestimate bureaucracy. Perhaps it’s just a French thing, but I’ve found that there are many, many layers of bureaucracy required to settle into functional, non-tourist living in another country.  While I’ve had a lot of help from the administrative staff at my research lab, it’s still a bit overwhelming sometimes – I started keeping a flow chart to track what documentation I needed to apply for the next layer of documentation.  After getting a scientist/researcher visa at the French consulate in San Francisco (level 1), now that I’m in France I can apply for my carte de séjour (residency permit – level 2).  After I have my carte de séjour, I can apply for national health care (level 3).  And this doesn’t even include just finding a place to live – Paris is like New York, where rental agencies manage the market (and charge an additional fee for their services). They also require a hefty amount of documentation for anything beyond a 3-month “vacation” rental – bank account information, tax forms, 3 months of pay stubs, etc.  I ultimately found a short-term apartment  where I could stay while I build up the requisite paperwork and look for a long-term apartment

Don’t let language stop you.  Most major conferences are in English – which means that most research groups either already speak English, or have a vested professional interest in improving their English.  My research group is very international – France, United States, Germany, Chile, Mexico, China, Brazil – and so we communicate on our linguistic common ground, English.

Do use the opportunity to learn the language around you.  While professionally I work in English, I try to talk in French as best I can with the people around me on an everyday basis.  I was fortunate enough to have learned pretty good French in high school, and am functional enough to order food at a restaurant, explain to a salesperson that I’m looking for a powerstrip by dancing around a word I’ve not learned yet (turns out, le multiprise) and describing its functionality instead, and chit chat with the woman next to me on the métro about what I’m knitting.  I’m still looking for a proper French class, but in the meantime I’m expanding my knowledge of French by eavesdropping on my French coworkers’ lunch conversations and watching dubbed episodes of “Les Simpson” on TV with closed captioning turned on.

Do you have any advice on the nuts and bolts of doing research internationally? Any particular topics you’d like an American-post-doc-in-Paris to address? Comment!

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Thanks for visiting. We are excited and eager to provide great content online. Continuing the tradition of XRDS being for students, by students, the XRDS blog will feature content relevant to CS students—getting the most out of grad school, identifying promising research trends, and addressing technical challenges that arise in academia and industry.

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