Merci beaucoup d'avoir accepté l'interview.
Can you tell us a few words on your professional background before your PhD?
I graduated in 2007 as a structural engineer in Tirana, Albania and ever since my career path has been quite dynamic. During the first year of my work, I have been a drafter and site engineer. Then I managed to get a job as a structural engineer in a precast concrete company and do what I always loved to do, numerical modeling. This lasted three years and the next step was to combine structural and geotechnical engineering competences in an infrastructure design company. Always motivated to learn but also teach others, during the six years of my last job in Albania, I did another master in Civil Engineering at Epoka University (part time) and invested myself in several teaching courses in different universities. These courses were in ‘Construction Science’, ’Soil Mechanics’, ‘Foundation Engineering’, ‘Pavement Design’ and ‘Tunnel Design’.
What made you leave your country after such a rich career there?
It was not an easy decision for me, since in the meantime I married and had two kids. The decision was a consequence of multiple factors. Firstly, I did not feel evaluated for my multiple competences and was a bit disappointed that the best jobs were reserved to a small circle of people not necessarily better than me. Secondly, the political, economic and social situation in Albania was not improving year after year, which made me anxious for the future of my kids. Thirdly, my thirst for science was not yet quenched and I did not feel realized professionally. This gave me the idea of having a PhD in a European country.
Was it easy to get a PhD after several years of work?
No, it was quite difficult for several reasons. Albania was not part of the European Union, and many countries did not accept an out of EU student. Moreover, professors and laboratories collect their PhD candidates directly after the engineering degree, which was not the case for me. So, I had to change my strategy if I wanted to succeed. Fortunately, a friend of mine suggested me to follow a master course in Grenoble as a trampoline towards the PhD. At that time there was a master in Geomechanics in Grenoble, taught in English and was accepting mainly international students. I applied and in September 2016 I restarted my studies in France (without knowing a word of French). At the end of the master, I applied to a few PhD opportunities and got accepted only to one of them. It was a PhD CIFRE financed by Terre Armée company aiming to propose a new design of a reinforced soil embankment serving as a rockfall protection.
How was your PhD experience?
It was quite a rich experience for me, and it met my scientific expectations. The main parts of work were literature review, real scale tests and numerical modeling. The greatest difficulty was to overcome the initial language barrier that kept me from socializing with the laboratory staff. Although most of them could understand English, this language was not preferrable in everyday conversations. The PhD went generally well, and we managed to do two successful tests campaigns. Multiple sensors were installed on the tested embankments and the results were impressive and relevant. The Covid crisis that occurred at the second year forced us to postpone the thesis defense by about four months and to do it online without public.
What happened after the PhD?
Fortunately, Terre Armée company offered me a job as a RDI engineer, which I accepted. Actually, there were not many options for me at that moment. The employment market was having a drastic reduction due to the Covid crisis and many job offers were withdrawn from companies. If I wanted to stay in France, I should move to the Paris region at the Terre Armée headquarters. So, since January 2021 I started my new job in a great international company that is part of the Vinci Group.
Is the knowledge from your PhD used in your work?
The answer would be partially yes. I developed a design method for reinforced soil embankments subjected to impacts, but on the other hand up to now we had very limited demand to design such structures. Nevertheless, the critical thinking developed during the PhD is always with me. In general, I encourage those who love science to pursue a PhD, because directly or indirectly their added value will be useful to them and to the society.