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Athanasios PAPAZOGLOU | Business Developer at ESRF – The European Synchrotron

Merci d'avoir accepté l'interview

Have you always wanted to do a PhD?

During my last year at the university, when somebody asked me if I would continue for a PhD after my studies, I replied with a big NO. I wanted to start working immediately in the industry and gain my first salary. And so I did. During the following years, I was constantly learning new things, mainly due to my daily practice. However, for several techniques, I was missing the scientific background that prevented me from becoming an expert in my field. The thought of becoming an expert drove me back to the school to continue my studies and improve my knowledge, skills, and abilities. That was the turning point for me. At the age of 30s and with more than five years of working experience, I was confident that I wanted to do a PhD. I wanted to achieve the highest level of academic qualification and become The expert in my domain.

Is it difficult to do a PhD?

My PhD was one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have been involved in the last few years. Starting a PhD is an incredibly scary task. You engage yourself for three years on a project that the outcome is not guaranteed, and very few people in the world have worked on something similar. During these three years, there are some challenges that you are almost certainly going to have to face during the program. So, you have to be prepared and mentally ready to accept this challenge. However, I would not say that doing a PhD is something difficult. It is a very challenging and demanding project but not hard. In addition, there are three essentials for a successful (non-difficult) PhD:

  • Willingness. You do a PhD because you really want to, and not because your friend did one or somebody said it is reasonable to have a PhD.

  • Subject. You will work on a project for three years under stressful conditions and with strict deadlines. So, it`s more pleasing to operate on a project you like and want to become an expert on.

  • Team. A PhD entails working on your own scientific research. However, a significant portion of my day-to-day work included collaborations with other colleagues and researchers. It is precisely these collaborations that make my PhD so exciting and fulfilling.

Is it possible to work in the industry after the PhD?

Yes. It is true that many PhD students, including myself, are afraid they have fewer chances to work in the industry if they choose to do a PhD. Doing a PhD does not necessarily mean you have to continue in academia or the enterprises are closing the door to you. PhDs are continuing to be hired in the industry. If you have a PhD you are a "doctor of learning", and the industry wants to hire candidates that can learn on the job quickly and correctly. A person with a PhD has a lot to offer in terms of determination, research skills, writing skills, etc that can be well sought. We simply need to showcase the skills we have to offer and how the PhD experience enhanced our values. My difficulty was translating the knowledge, skills and abilities I gained during my PhD to industrial needs and demands. It just takes a bit of practice to break this barrier.

What are the skills that you gained during your PhD?

I had to reply to this question at the end of my PhD while I was looking for my next steps, and I have to admit that it is a challenging question. During the PhD, we are not just learning about our research topic. We are also learning skills that are in demand for jobs both in and out of academia. As a PhD student, you often work as a part of a team. I have been part of projects where multiple labs and universities were working together. So, this gave me some experience in team working and collaboration. As a PhD student, I gained and have been using negotiation skills. I had to discuss the value of my research at a conference with an expert audience. I used my negotiation skills to convince the dissertation committee about the steps taken during the PhD project and to communicate with reviewers of scientific journals to get my articles accepted. An essential skill for meeting the research objectives and the strict deadlines is to remain focused on priorities and avoid distractions. As a PhD student, I had to prioritize my various duties and designate adequate timelines to each of them. So, the organizational skills are another perfect example of transferable skills that I have also gained during my PhD.

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