Finding an Academic Job in Forensic Psychology in South Africa

Hello fellow job-seekers! You are about to embark on an epic journey through the deep catacombs of the university system. You will encounter friend and foe, experience anticipation and frustration, and generally be a complete mess throughout this endeavor. But, fear not! We are here to help with some useful advice on getting a job in forensic psychology (a.k.a. psychology and law, legal psychology). Be sure to check out all of the articles in this series!

This article features useful information on finding an academic job in forensic psychology in South Africa, and was written by Annelies Vredeveldt.

The overview

Working and living in South Africa is fantastic. South Africa has a mild climate, interesting cultures, stunning nature, and plenty of outdoor activities. It is still a developing country, but it is developing fast and the academic level of universities is becoming higher and higher.

Finding jobs

A hurdle in finding academic jobs in South Africa is that many jobs are not advertised online. I am not aware of a central online database to look for academic jobs in South Africa, except maybe Careerjet.co.za, which does not seem to include all jobs on offer. You could target specific universities instead (e.g., for the University of Cape Town), but again not all jobs might be listed here. It seems that people typically hear about academic jobs through word of mouth, or through faculty sending out e-mails to their local and international contacts. If you know someone in South Africa that you would be interested in working with, it would probably be best to send them an e-mail to see if they know of any academic jobs going. Requirements and qualifications for academic posts vary widely, so it is best to enquire with the institution advertising the job as to what the requirements are.

Applying

The academic year in South Africa runs parallel to the calendar year, so the most typical start date would probably be mid-January. However, academic jobs are advertised year-round, and the start date can often be negotiated. Applications for positions usually need to be submitted via mail, because they need to have original signatures (and a signature of a witness) and have to be accompanied by certified copies of academic transcripts. Therefore, it is important that you submit your application with plenty of time to spare, because mail can take a while to reach South Africa. It is also advisable to send it via tracked mail, so that you can check where the application is.

Foreign Nationals

This post would not be complete without a warning that, as a foreign national, it will be difficult to obtain an academic post in South Africa. Because of the high rate of unemployment, the South African government would rather appoint a South African person to a job than a foreign national, and in order to get a Work Visa you (or the recruiting institution) will have to prove that there is no-one in South Africa who can do the job. On the bright side, however, language will likely not be an issue for English-speaking foreigners, because the leading language in most universities is English. There are a few universities (e.g., University of Stellenbosch) where Afrikaans is another major language, but even there you would typically be able to get by without speaking Afrikaans.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

The idea of a postdoc is still quite new in South Africa, but there has been a recent push to expand the number of postdoctoral fellows at universities. In South Africa, a postdoc receives a bursary rather than a salary, and these bursaries are exempt from tax. This means that postdocs are in a somewhat strange position in-between students and staff, and there are some drawbacks associated with that (e.g., universities are not allowed to pay you for teaching activities). However, because postdocs do not receive a salary, it is easier for foreign nationals to get a postdoc (as opposed to a “real” job), because they require a Visitor’s Visa rather than a Work Visa (hence you do not need to prove that no South African national can do the job). There are a number of funding sources for postdocs (e.g., AW Mellon Foundation, University Research Funds), and they are typically linked to the specific university. More information about being a postdoc at the University of Cape Town can be found here.. For other universities, simply Google the name of the university together with “Postdoctoral Research Fellow”.

Salary and Cost of Living

Compared to Europe and the United States, South African salaries are relatively low. Postdoctoral Research Fellows receive bursaries rather than salaries, and they vary between ZAR 150,000 and ZAR 200,000 per year, which is between €15,000 and €20,000 Euro / between $18,000 and $24,000 USD, but these are exempt from tax. Entry level lectureships are paid about twice as much, at between ZAR 300,000 and ZAR 400,000 (approximately), but these salaries are taxed. Despite the relatively low salary, the standard of living is very high in South Africa, and the salaries are definitely sufficient to make a comfortable living. Some things, such as food and accommodation, are much cheaper than in Europe and the United States (e.g., a nice one-bedroom flat in a good area would typically cost around ZAR 3000-4500, or €300-450 / $400-550, per month), whereas other things, such as cars and electronics, are much more expensive than in Europe and the United States (e.g., the cheapest second-hand car that you could possibly find would still be about ZAR 30,000, or €3000 / $3700).

Despite the hurdles to find and obtain an academic job in South Africa, it is definitely worth considering. The level at many universities rivals the level at European/American universities. Perhaps more importantly, working in South Africa is not just about working. South Africans place a high value on a full life, and the country provides many opportunities for new experiences and adventures.

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