Aiming for a professorship?

The experience of the Réseau romand de mentoring shows that most of its female participants do not plan to become professors at the start of their postdoctoral career, but say they would like to « continue in research ». Is it possible however to conduct research activities in Switzerland outside an academic career and should a professorship be the immediate objective?

A hierarchical structure

Because of a very hierarchical structure, the academic career comprises different stages, from lower intermediary staff, to higher intermediary staff and professorships.

However, this does not involve a transparent and institutionalised succession of posts that would allow young researchers to advance step by step or « become established » in an intermediary position.

In fact, with the exception of senior lecturer posts, positions below professorship level are offered on a fixed-term basis and are fairly scarce, particularly after the doctorate. Selection procedures are based mainly on the « up or out » principle. There is thus no guarantee of a job within the institution.

Posts in Switzerland and abroad

In Switzerland, there is no public body that offers statutory research posts as in other countries. A permanent position at a university therefore provides the best guarantee of continuing research activities for those not working in fields likely to be of interest to the private sector or who wish to work in the public sector.

However a comparison of researchers’ individual career paths with the logic of the Swiss academic system described schematically above shows that exceptions exist and many researchers have finally found a certain professional stability by advancing from one contract to another.

Moreover, if we take the global academic market into consideration, opportunities are more abundant. Indeed, in many countries, positions below professorship offer greater stability. A candidate for an academic career in Switzerland would thus be well advised to opt for an intermediary post abroad if they don’t have access to a tenure-track position.

Career plan and uncertainty

In view of the uncertainty of the selection process, an academic career requires a great deal of perseverance and a willingness to take a certain number of professional and financial risks.

According to the norm, researchers are expected to rapidly establish themselves professionally.

Developing career objectives is one way of indicating to your environment (superiors, etc.) that you wish to establish a « plan » to minimise the risks inherent in an academic career.

In the face of uncertainties, knowing the « rules of the game » and becoming involved in one or more formal or informal networks is also very important to maximise your chances and defend your rights.