Why I left Canada to work as a University Professor in China

One year and a half ago, I was working as a professor at a university in Canada. But I took the decision to not renew my contract and move to China. At that time, some people may have thought that I was crazy to leave my job in Canada since it was an excellent job, and I also had a house and a car. Thus, why going somewhere else? However, as of today, I can tell you that moving to China has been one of the best decision that I ever took for my career. In this blog post, I will tell you my story an explain why I moved there. I will also compare the working conditions that I had in Canada with those that I have now in China.

China flag

Before moving to China

After finishing my Ph.D in 2010, I have worked as a post-doctoral researcher in Taiwan for a year. Then, I came back to Canada and worked as a faculty member for about 4 years there. However, in Canada, the faculty positions are very rare.  When I was in Canada, I was hoping to move to another faculty position closer to my hometown to be closer to my family but it has been almost impossible since there are about only five faculty positions that I could apply related to my research area in computer science, every year, for the whole country!  Thus, getting a faculty position in Canada is extremely difficult and competitive. There are tons of people applying and very few positions available.

I had several interviews at various universities in Canada. But getting a faculty position in another university in Canada was hard because of various reasons. Sometimes a job can be announced but the committee can already have someone in mind or may prefer some other candidates for various strange reasons. For example, the last interview that I had in Canada about two years ago was at a university in Quebec, and basically they hired someone else that had almost no research experience due to some “political reasons”. Just to give you a sense of how biased that hiring process was, here is a comparison of the candidate that was hired and me:

Total number of citations:    < 150 (the selected candidate)  1031 (me)
Number of citations (most cited paper):    < 20  (the selected candidate)    134 (me)
Number of citations (last year):  < 30 (the selected candidate)      >300  (me)
Number of papers (this year):   4 (the selected candidate)   >40  (me)

So who would you hire? But anyway, I just show this as an example to show that the hiring process is not always fair. Actually, this could have happened anywhere in the world. But when there are very few jobs available, as in Canada, it makes it even harder to find a position. But, it does not bother me, since this has led me to try something else and move to China, which has been one of the best decision  for my career!

Before explaining what happened after this, let me make it clear that I did not leave my previous job in Canada because I did not like it. Actually, I had the chance to work at a great university in Canada and I made many friends there, and had also had some wonderful students. I had my first opportunity to work as a professor there and it was a hard decision to leave. However, to go further in my career as a researcher, I wanted to move to a bigger university.

Moving to China

Thus, at the end of June 2015, I decided to apply for a faculty position at a top university in China.  I quickly passed the interview and started to work there a few months later after quickly selling my house and my car in Canada.  So now let’s talk about what you probably want to know: how my current job in China is compared to my previous position in Canada?

Well, I must first say that I moved to one of the top 10 university in China, which is also one of the top 100 university in the world for computer science. Thus, the level of the students there is quite high and it is also an excellent research environment.  But let’s analyse this in more details.

In terms of research funding:

  • In Canada, it has become extremely difficult to receive research funding due to budget cuts in research and the lack of major investment in education by the government. To give you an idea, the main research funding association called NSERC could only give me 100,000$ CAD for five years, and I was considered lucky to have this funding. But this is barely enough to pay one graduate student and attend one or two conference per year.
  • In China, on the other hand, the Chinese government offers incredible research funding opportunities.  Of course, not everyone is equally funded. The smaller universities do not receive as much funding as the top universities. But there is some very good research program to support researchers, and especially the top researchers. In my case, I applied for a special program to recruit young talents called the Youth 1000 talent program by the  NSFC (National Science Fundation of China). I was awarded 4,000,000 RMB in research funding (about 800,000 $ CAD), for five years. Thus I now receives about eight times more funding than what I received in Canada for my research. This of course now make a huge difference for my research. I can thus buy expensive equipment that I needed such as a big data cluster, hire a post-doc, pay many students, and perhaps even hire a profesionnal programmer eventually to support my research.  Besides, after getting this grant for young talents, I was automatically promoted to Full Professor, and will soon become the director of a research center, and will get my own lab. This is a huge improvement for my career compared to what I had in Canada.

Now let’s compare the salary:

  • In Canada, I had a decent salary for a university professor.
  • In China, my base salary is already about 15% higher  than what I received in Canada. This is partly due to the fact that I work in a top university, located in a rich city (Shenzhen) and that I also received a major pay increase after receiving the young talent funding. However, besides the salary, it is possible to receive many bonuses in China that can increase your salary through various program. Just to give you an example, in the city of Shenzhen, there is a program called the Peackock program that can provide more than 2,000,000 RMB (about 400,000 CAD $) for living expenses for excellent researchers working in that city, on five years.  I will not say how much I earn. But by including these special program(s), I can say that my salary is now about twice what I earned in Canada.

In terms of living expenses, living in China is of course much less expensive than living in Canada. And the income tax is more or less similar, depending on the provinces in Canada. In the bigger cities in China, renting an apartment can be expensive. However, everything else is cheap. Thus, the overall living cost is much lower than Canada.

In terms of life in general, of course, the life is different in China than in Canada, in many different ways. There are always some advantages and disadvantages to live in any country around the world, as nothing is perfect anywhere. But I really enjoy my life in China. And since I greatly enjoy the Chinese culture (and speak some Chinese), this is great for me. The city where I work is a very modern city that is very safe (I would never be worried about walking late at night). In terms of work environment, I am also very satisfied. I have great colleagues and everyone is friendly. It is on overall very exciting to work there and I expect that it will greatly improve my research in the next few years.

Also, it is quite inspiring to work and contribute to a top university and a city that are currently very quickly expanding. To give you an idea, the population of that city has almost doubled in the last fifteen year, reaching more than 10 million persons, and 18 millions when including the surrounding areas. There are also many possibilities for projects with the industry and  the government in such a large city.

Conclusion

In this blog post, I wanted to discuss a little bit about the reasons why I decided to move to China, and why I consider that it is one of the best decisions that I ever took for my career, as I think that it would be interesting for other researchers.

By the way, if you are a data mining researcher and are looking for a faculty position in China, you may leave me a message. My research center is looking to hire at least one professor with a data mining background.

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Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 110 data mining algorithms. If you like this blog, you can tweet about it and/or subscribe to my twitter account @philfv to get notified about new posts.

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One Response to Why I left Canada to work as a University Professor in China

  1. Javier Enciso says:

    Dear Prof. Fournier-Viger.

    Thank you for sharing. Very useful information!
    –Javier

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