Pôle API, 300 bd Sébastien Brant, 67400 Illkirch-Graffenstaden

Thesis or not thesis ?

Thesis or not thesis ?

Thesis or not thesis

On Tuesday 26th of November, ESBS students and speakers of various backgrounds gathered in the small D112 room of the Pole API to discuss the pros and cons of doing a thesis/PhD. The speakers presented their academic career and students were able to ask them questions regarding the experience of doing a PhD or not.

The Speakers:

  • Former ESBS student Nathan Dilda currently works at Octopharma as a production support engineer. He decided not to do a PhD. He took the opportunity to discover all the aspect of a pharmaceutical company by joining Octopharma’s graduate program. This program consist of 2-3 years during which years you’re visiting all the department of the companies at the end of the program you can join the department of your choice. According to him, his ESBS background isn’t that useful in his everyday work which requires a general way of thinking and knowledges in science. He said that coming from a trinationale school is really a plus when applying for a job.
  • Xavière Lornage just graduated from PhD at IGMC (Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire) and is now pursuing post doc studies. She really had a good experience during her PhD and describe it as “exciting”. According to her, a PhD allows oneself to learn how to manage a project, to build collaboration and to meet new people through conferences. But the main point is that it made her feel useful as she worked on a project having real medical applications. A PhD is a personal experience but a demanding one. You have to choose the lab carefully and make sure that it had founding. You’re going to have a lot of freedom but it also means that you need to be proactive to find answer to your questions. A PhD is a full time real job and it require professionalism especially in managing the conflicts in the lab.
  • Jérôme Erhart started his career by studying chemistry. He did a PhD in chemistry and post doc studies in nanomedicine. But working 5 years at the bench made him realize that it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He then pursued a MBA (Master of Business Administration) in management of biotech companies and started working as a consultant. He now works in at BPI France (bank) and he helps to found start up and innovation using his expertise in science. In his company, he’s the only one that has a PhD. This experience gave him the expertise needed to works with break thought companies. He need a solid background in science to talk with customers.
  • Nicholas Kern started his career working as a technician in organic chemistry. After doing analytical jobs for the polymer industry, he got bored of just “pushing the buttons” and decided to pursue a master and a PhD in chemistry. According to him, doing a PhD really changed his life as it allowed him to reach a new level of knowledge and competence. After the PhD, he did post doc studies in Manchester and he is now working for the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). The PhD and post doc studies allowed him to satisfy his curious nature and to work on new types of chemistry while being decently paid. His current work consists in time in the lab but also supervising student (PhD and master) and applying for founding.
  • Laurent Jourdainne did his PhD in physics 12 years ago. He is now working for Merck in a senior development position. His PhD made him realize that he wasn’t suited for an academic position. His goal is to develop things close to a product. He still pursued post do studies before joining a private company as he found it difficult to find a job with just a PhD.


The questions:

  • How do I choose a lab?

Feel the atmosphere by asking the people directly (the students) and visiting the lab. The human side is essential to appreciate a PhD.

Get some information online (state founding may be public), look at the publications.

  • What if I am too qualified to get a job?

It really depends of the position. For instance, development doesn’t require a specialist background. HR may be worried that you could grow bored in the position and that you would leave after a short time. People can be afraid often much diploma and HR often have difficulties to understand what you are actually able to do (PhD can be too complicated for them). But this can be avoided when writing your CV. What really matters is how you present your academic career.

  • What if I don’t like my PhD?

People can leave at any moment before the end of the first years. You can be asked to found back you salary if you don’t defend your thesis in the end. One of the main reason leading to people quitting is linked to human relationship. When applying for a PhD, you have to be ready to put effort anyway and take the time to inform yourself.

  • How did you know you wanted to do a PhD?

If you’re curious, if you get the founding (may be easier if you have good grades), if you are motivated (science is super competitive, especially on the international level), then go for it.  But it also depends on the opportunities as internships can leads to the labs directly asking you if you want to join them to do a PhD.

  • How much patience is required to do a PhD?

You have to have to be able to keep pushing the experiments but the results will often tell you when you have to change plan Most of the time, the results come progressively and small progression every day is really stimulating. There are plenty of things to do in parallel, especially in biology and you’re rarely out of work. Patience and perseverance play an important role but luck must also be taken in account.

All talked about the difference between France and other countries when it comes to engineer diploma and PhD. In France, you can start working directly after an engineer diploma and a PhD isn’t required to achieve high positions in a company. But abroad, a PhD is more valued and it is easier to get a job directly after it than in France. It is still difficult to find a job directly after a PhD and companies often requires post doc studies to acquire more practical skills. Some companies will even ask for a MBA in top of the PhD to reach high ranking position. A PhD can be an international experience as you’ll surely collaborate with international labs. Doing a PhD abroad is really valued when coming back to work in France.

A PhD allows you to develop numerous soft skills in top of an expertise in your domain of research. You have to be organise and the hierarchy is less present than in private companies. There isn’t the same need to follow deadlines and to define priorities. This leads to a lot of freedom. But it also depends on the lab you’re working in. It won’t be the same if you do you PhD in an academic setting than if you do it in a private company. You may get more founding but also more deadlines /meetings /constraints in a private setting.

None regretted their career choices. Whatever you do, what matters is how you capitalize from your experience.

A PhD will allow you to acquire a large variety of skills. You will be a specialist in your field of research but you will also gain numerous soft skills. A PhD only last between 3 and 6 years depending on where you do it. In the end, what really matters is your personal life goal. A PhD can lead to an academic career and could allow you to reach higher positions in private companies. But it requires a lot of lab work and personal investment. Academic research can be really different than research in a private setting. Thesis or not thesis? You are the only one who can answer this question for yourself.


Iris Barbier-Piguet

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