Merci beaucoup d'avoir accepté l'interview.
Please briefly describe your background and what made you come in France for a thesis
In Cluj-Napoca (Romania) I studied applied physics at the university. During my last year of the undergraduate studies, I had the chance to participate in a little contest the prize of which was a one-week, all-inclusive visit of the laboratories of the Polygone Scientifique in Grenoble. It was simply great, and the landscapes around the capital of the Alps were irresistible to a mountain afficionado like me. So, I came back as an exchange student for a full year during the second year of my master in plasma physics. Frankly, I wasn’t planning to do a thesis because during my master internship I gradually realized that fundamental research is not my cup of coffee. But at the time I wasn’t aware of the existence of thèse CIFRE which is a great thing. And this brings us to the next question.
What are the differences between a these CIFRE and a these ministerielle?
I seized the opportunity that was, in all honesty, presented to me by a company who had a very audacious R&D project with a marketable finality (it is still ongoing from what I heard, my thesis was the first milestone). The fact that the working contract was within the private sector and the project was very palpable made me almost forget that it was still a doctoral thesis, at least in the first two years. A CIFRE thesis takes the best (and sometimes the worst) of both worlds: academic world and private sector. You have a 3-year contract within a company as an R&D engineer. The results of your research are directly implemented to make the project progress and, if they are innovative and scientific enough, you get to publish them in a paper or two which will eventually become the backbone of your PhD. The salary is usually higher than for a thesis in the public sector and you get working experience within a company. However, you publish less, due to lack of time and sometimes due to confidentiality issues. At the end, the unavoidable stress and anxiety related to editing your manuscript is, I would say, even higher because you have to make twice the adjustments and corrections coming from two supervisors with sometimes considerably different points of view.
So how to choose?
It is rather simple in my opinion: if your lifestyle is bohemian like 300 papers, 20 post-its and 10 cups of dry coffee on your desk and if an academic career is what you are dreaming of, you should go for a classical one. However, I learned that, at least in France, not all HR departments of the private companies are happy to choose PhD holders over what they consider “solid” engineers issued from Ecole d’Ingénieur. A CIFRE thesis smoothens very well that difficulty if the private sector is what you are aiming for. Plus, it is quite common that the company where the CIFRE took place hires the newly graduate to continue the project.
You talk about stress and anxiety. Is a thesis difficult? And is it worth it?
Definitely yes, doing a thesis is tough, it’s a trial by fire period because of the multiple deadlines and the very high working load. I have never met a PhD holder who said it was a breeze. But nothing that is worth having comes easy, so yes again, a thesis is worth the effort. Personally, I have the chance to work in a field and company in which the hard and soft skills acquired throughout the PhD are directly useful. And, particularly outside France, the mere title opens some doors. For people who maybe want to have an international career, the PhD degree is the only one fully & readily recognized by all countries and universities regardless of its issuing institution.