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Reflections on a PhD in Paris -David WALLIS

Merci d'avoir accepté l'interview

Give us a brief overview of your background up to now

I was born and raised in a small village in northern England, where sheep and mud are the dominant features. I read physics (specialising in particle physics) at the University of Cambridge for my undergraduate and master’s degrees, before dipping a toe into the corporate world with a job as a data analyst at Deloitte in London. Before too long I ran away from the pool and back into the refuge of academia, starting my PhD at Paris-Saclay in 2018. The PhD focused on the use of machine learning and deep learning to analyse medical images and identify cancer. I defended my thesis in June 2021 and, after a well earned break in South America, started a new job at Keen Eye as a data scientist in October.

Why did you choose to move to Paris?

I always wanted to try living in a different country – there’s more to the world than the green fields of England! I had been living in London, but after a couple of years I got sick of not being able to tell where the sky starts and the concrete jungle ends. A PhD opportunity presented itself at a great lab in Paris with an interesting topic, so I went for it. France had always appealed to me. I did a bit of French at school (which turned out to be virtually useless), and it’s only a train journey back to the homeland in case of emergency (e.g. COVID).

Was it difficult moving abroad? In terms of finding a job, cultural changes etc?

I actually found a job reasonably easily. I think in scientific domains the lingua franca is English, which makes it much more simple. In terms of cultural changes, for the first few months having to communicate via hand gestures and Google Translate was a bit of a pain. And in general learning a language is a grind – I now appreciate the difficulty others have learning English. And there are loads of other random things that make you feel like a fish out of water. Why aren’t there beans in the supermarkets? I spent a day trying to find a shop that sells paperclips. (Normally the answer to this sort of question is Fnac or Decathlon, two of the best things about France). I’ve also come to accept that I will fail at most administrative tasks on the first attempt. However, on the whole it’s a really positive experience. There are so many amazing museums and bars and buildings, and in the summer everyone sits by the Seine with picnics (France may be the country that does the best picnics. In the UK we normally have tinnies and a pack of Doritos).

What made you choose your current employment after your PhD? Why did you not do a post-doc?

I enjoyed my PhD but wanted a change, and the idea of a research-based company appealed to me. Flash forward six months and I’m now working for Keen Eye, a biotech starttup that uses AI to analyse histopathology images. I’m still doing research, reading scientific papers, coding, so in many ways not much has changed compared to my PhD. However, I’m also part of a wider company ecosystem that includes business, marketing, and product teams. I therefore get to experience some of the business side too, such as presenting and discussing with clients.

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