Working in France

Today I complete 2 continuous years of being in France as a researcher/student.

I first came to France in 2015 to do a semester in the University of Strasbourg as a master student.
In 2016 I came back to the same city to do my master thesis. Later I started my PhD in 2017 with the polymer theory group in ICS/CNRS.

Language. I cannot speak fluent french but sometimes when the situation demands french comes out of me just like that. This does not guarantee that the listener understands what I’m trying to convey. I am not required to learn french since my working language is english. The whole group interacts with each other (wild approximation) in english and because of this sometimes you lack the motivation to learn another language. Working in a small group with talented people from different backgrounds has taught me quite a lot of things. Everything I’ve learned comes under the big heading “how to conduct research”, which also encompasses how to interact with your boss, seniors and share your results to the general public.

Friends in a strange land. I read somewhere that when you grow up to become an adult, its not always easy to make friends as it was when you were a kid. When you are small you could (in a perfect world) walk up to someone you want to be friends with and ask “do you want to be my friend?”. It is certainly awkward to do it when you’re a grown up (Leave a comment if you think this is not the case). But then life gets pretty boring and monotonous without friends, especially for an international student looking for new opportunities. The first set of interactions happened with senior PhD students in the group who were welcoming, kind, and about to defend. With the little time they had, they showed me around and for some reason also taught me how to use the coffee machine (Later I realized coffee is the main reason you are able to work towards getting a PhD).

Cringe. Then came the time when I had to talk physics to my bosses. They were very patient and tried to understand my poor explanation of conceptual matters. Sooner I realized my speech was incoherent and I should tell a story every time I share some information (every single time, with anyone). This led to an improved version of myself where my speech became slow, used clever sounding words and carefully (tried to be) structured. Once I started to understand what my results meant physically, I started to think independently and jolted down these thoughts on a nice little book that was available for free from the stationary department of the institute. This really helped in writing my thesis, even though I went on to make a gazillion structural errors, just like in this post. When I started my PhD, I had to interact with people I considered gods (or had huge respect for) in my field. Very senior researchers with tremendous amount of experience. This, for me, automatically meant I cannot say anything stupid. Because of this conscious feeling of being wrong, I tried to speak less and whenever I spoke something I would start to stutter and miss to portray the big picture. It felt so uncomfortable. Then as time passed this “interaction fright” faded; I was able to deliver whatever I had in mind smoothly than before (at least I thought so).

Working. I still don’t know how to structure a proper sentence to ask my boss for vacations. Talking about vacations, In France you get 44 days of paid vacation which is so much more than anywhere else. On top of that they ask for only 35 working hours per week which is way too less in comparison to other countries. I recently came to know that in the US people work for 44 or more hours per week. This is a lot. Studies show that relaxed working environments make people more productive. France in that sense is a great place to work, and is one of those countries that believe in these studies and are early adopters of its results.

I have no idea where this post is going, so I’ll end here.