Make a move to a career hot spot

July 28, 2006

Fancy a job in a place where the sun always shines? Harriet Swain discovers how you can ensure your working life's a beach by leaving behind the cold British winters and getting a warm welcome overseas

The sun is shining. The beach beckons. The wine is local and cheap. If only it could be like this all the time. Perhaps it could be.

There's no reason why you couldn't employ your academic skills somewhere a bit sunnier all year round.

First, why not just dip your toe in the water, suggests Sue Hopkinson, information officer for the Socrates Erasmus programme, which helps to fund short-term exchanges for staff in institutions elsewhere in Europe.

"Erasmus is a test," she says. "If academics are interested in working abroad, it often stems from that experience."

Academics on an Erasmus exchange usually spend a week in another country and about eight hours of this teaching. Competence in the language of the host nation is helpful in liaising with colleagues overseas, Hopkinson says, but it has become less important in teaching as many courses in European universities use English for lectures.

Finding a suitable exchange is up to individual academics. You may come into contact with European universities through exchanges involving your students or meeting individual academics at a conference. Networking is key.

Terry Jones, director of communications at the Association of Graduate Recruiters Advisory Service, says UK universities often have established links with universities abroad, and it is worth finding out whether your university does and whether you can become involved. Otherwise, attending and speaking at conferences is vital. He says that he has heard of people getting job offers outside conference lecture theatres.

Graham Priest, professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne, moved to Australia from Britain in 1976. He advises taking a period of leave and travelling around your target country to get a feel for it and to get to know people who may later be helpful in finding a job.

It is also worth getting in touch with the British Council office in the country where you would like to work. While they will not fund your research, you may get help with travel expenses. You could also try contacting the country's embassy, says Hilary Managh, information officer at the British Council's Network UK. At the embassy you will find information about visa requirements and you may be able to get contact details about the relevant professional body for your field in that country.

If you want to work in another country in Europe, Managh suggests that you contact that country's European Union national mobility centre and that you post your CV on its website. The mobility centre should also be able to offer support if you have any problems once you have moved.

Shona Farrall, founder of the Expat Network, which runs a magazine and website for people working abroad, says that if you are offered a job overseas, you must have a thorough look at the terms of your employment contract before you travel.

"If you sign the contract and you get out there and find it is not quite what you expected, or the accommodation isn't what you were promised, then there is nothing you can do about it," she warns.

Farrall says that it is important to think about what healthcare is on offer in the country you are going to and whether you will need to take out health insurance.

If you are planning a long-term or permanent stay, you will need to think about pension provision. You will also need to consider whether you will still have to pay tax in the UK and if any trips back to Britain and the length of time you spend there will influence your tax bill. You also need to consider who is responsible for organising and providing accommodation and whether you will have to forfeit a hefty deposit if the arrangement doesn't work out.

Networking will also be important once you arrive in a new country. Farrall advises seeking out other expatriate teachers in the institution where you will be working so that you can learn from their experi-ences.

Jones says you must not forget your family. If you are travelling within Europe, your partner will be able to work. If you travel further afield, this could be a problem. Schooling could also prove difficult. Your children may not appreciate being plunged into learning in an unfamiliar language, but there will be few other options unless you can afford to pay the fees at a specialist international school.

Jones says that you should also consider your long-term career and how a period of work abroad will affect it. For example, in certain subjects it is considered unwise for a junior lecturer to spend time in the US too early in his or her career because the teaching load there makes it difficult to publish - and publications will improve your job prospects in the future.

On the other hand, he says, what really matters in career terms is what you have worked on and who you have worked with. So long as both of these elements are highly regarded, it doesn't really make a difference where you are based.

"Academia is very much a global place these days," Jones adds. So you may well be able to spend some of your academic career in a library in the sun after all.

Further information

British Council: www.britishcouncil.org
Directory of foreign embassies in the UK: www.fco.gov.uk
Europa World of Learning , a country-by-country listing of universities, departments and contacts, Routledge: www.worldoflearning.com/public/views/subscribe.html
List of European Union national mobility centres: www.europa.eu.int/eracareers/index_en.cfm?l1=8   
The Expat Network: www.expatnetwork.co.uk
Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services: www.agcas.org.uk

TOP TIPS

  • Network at conferences abroad
  • Use existing networks at your institution
  • Get the timing right in terms of your career
  • Check the employment contract
  • Pursue work in a top department

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