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T-Minus 3 Months to Postdoc Launch

Time shrinking is a phenomenon I'm currently experiencing big time as the start date for my first postdoctoral position approaches. On 24th June my Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship officially starts, and while I can't wait (it will have been 11 months since I found out I got funding), there's also still an awful lot to sort out.
The point of the Marie Curie awards (let's call them MC, it's easier) is to encourage early career researchers like me to move between countries, strengthening the wider network of science, gaining training and experience in a different environment than their home country. I'm doing an IEF which means I move to a new country within Europe for two years, but there are other types where you can go outside Europe (IOF), or if you are outside already, come in (IIF). My chosen country is France, and I'll be at PACEA (de la Prehistoire a Actuel: Culture, Environnement, et Anthropologie) research unit at Universite Bordeaux 1.

I'm pretty lucky to have some French language already: I did it for A-Level, and although this was some time ago, it means that I've been pretty well-equipped to read a lot of French literature in my own research field. Although the Neanderthals as a species are named after a valley in Germany, it's France that is, at least in my head, the homeland for Neanderthal archaeology, as Le Moustier- the type site for their later culture, the Mousterian- is in the Dordogne region along with many other rich sites. However, while I can read a French archaeology PhD without too much trouble, and have just about managed to get by in conferences where the sessions were in French, my comprehension of conversational French as well as the ability to chat back to people is quite rusty. I'm listening to French radio online, and watching the fabulous French detective series Engrenages on iPlayer, and things are definitely improving, but I've not been able to find a local French tutor and it's hard to go further afield as I work part time in retail right now to make ends meet. So I'll just have to jump straight in when I arrive in Bordeaux, and take up discounted French lessons which are offered with my membership of the Fondation Kastler, an organisation that aims to help new researchers moving to France.

Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie, the first twice-honoured Nobel laureate (and still the only one in two different sciences). Image: Nobel foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The other major challenge aside from worrying about being able to speak to my colleagues is the rather enormous undertaking involved in moving to another country, even within the EU. When I was originally offered the MC I thought I could manage it by living alone in Bordeaux and coming home to visit my family every so often (husband and cats). However, we pretty soon decided that frankly there'd been enough long-distance living during my ten years of degrees in the UK, and that they would come with me. I'm really happy that I can finally become the breadwinner and let my husband have a rest from being the main financial support for our family. This issue is however the source of real heartache for many others beginning postdocs, as their partner may not want to or be able to follow them, leading to more years of tough time apart at one of the most stressful points in researchers' careers.

Gratuitous photo of one of my cats
However once we'd decided we would all take the plunge, the complexity of logistics involved in moving increased a lot. There was some help on offer through the MC network and through the Fondation Kastler, the amount of bureaucracy involved in moving countries is quite considerable, and it's been very confusing at times finding out the right people to ask about issues such as taxation, health entitlement etc. For example, while there seem to exist rather a lot of accountancy firms that will help you with tax planning internationally if you've got lots of money to invest, I've been unable so far to find anyone simply specialising in helping normal people like me who are moving for work reasons to navigate the UK and French systems simultaneously. Yes, sadly, the dull subject of tax is something that you must consider in your glittering multi-national science career... and it looks like I'll be paying twice, with one UK and one French accountant!

Lovely Bordeaux awaits! The temperature when I took this was about 40 degrees C warmer than it is now in the UK!

Right now we have a very long list of tasks including downsizing all our stuff, finding a van rental to avoid the large cost of using professional removals, and embarking on becoming landlords ourselves whilst trying to find somewhere to live in Bordeaux. This latter has actually been quite tricky, because as foreigners we are subject to even more stringent requirements as renters than French people, for example needing more proofs of income and an official guarantor for the rent, for which thankfully a government scheme exists as most people in France use their family. The plus side of different rental laws to the UK however includes greater legal protection as a tenant, and the fact that we have a right to take our cats anywhere, so it's not all bad.

So the next three months will be a whirlwind of sorting out documentation like getting birth certificates translated , registering with accountants, doing DIY jobs on our own house prior to renting it, and boxing up our things. As well as this I need to complete the large paper based on my PhD results that I want to submit to a journal before I leave.
In mid-April we are going to Bordeaux for a few days to check out areas we might want to live, and hopefully experience some of the lovely Bordelais culture that we'll be enjoying soon!
Once I arrive in France, I'll have about three weeks to sort out accommodation in Bordeaux, registering with the Universite, and then I'm off for two months of fieldwork in the South East of France. I'll be doing another post talking about the TRACETERRE project very soon. Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like to hear about!

Map showing the TRACETERRE project region, in the southern foothills of the Massif Central. The marker is on one of the project sites, Rochelimagne.


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