Science Careers Blog

April 6, 2009

Career Prospects Following a Doctorate in Industry (in Europe)

Over the years, many European countries have put in place funding programs that allow early career scientists to do Ph.D.s jointly in academia and industry in an effort to bridge the two worlds. A survey carried out in France suggests that these programs have been effective in helping Ph.D. scientists enter industry. But the survey shows that doing a Ph.D. in partnership with a company may also make it more difficult to find a job in academia.

The survey, which was released by the French National Association for Research and Technology (ANRT), looked at the CIFRE (Convention Industrielle de Formation par la Recherche) program (also run by the ANRT). Since its launch in 1981, the CIFRE program has allowed more than 12,700 students to complete Ph.D.s under the joint supervision of an academic and an industrial supervisor in France, with a completion rate of 87%. 

The survey drew a response rate of 22% and the vast majority (86%) of the responding CIFRE graduates said they had fulfilled their career ambitions.

Ninety-six per cent of the responding CIFRE graduates reported obtaining a job within a year of their graduation. Almost half of them (42%) were recruited by their host company, while 16% continued working in their academic Ph.D. labs. Altogether, about one fifth of them (22%) continued with a postdoc, most often in France.  

At the time of the survey, the majority of the responding graduates worked in a large company (38%) or in a public higher education and research institution (27%). Almost a quarter of them (23%) worked in a small or medium-size company and another 5% were employed in a non-research public institution.

Three quarters of those who obtained their Ph.D.s in the 1980's reported having some managerial responsibilities, and between 20 and 30% of the respondents with most experience reported salaries higher than 60k€. 

Altogether, 40% of the responding graduates had either taken a new position or left for a new employer at least once in their career. In the majority of the cases, this career change occurred in the year following graduation.

"It seems that the doctorate, supported by the CIFRE program, has served the respondents' careers well, significantly at the beginning of their professional careers, with the rapid and relatively durable stabilization of their employment and sector of activity," the ANRT report concludes.

Seventy per cent of the responding graduates felt that doing a Ph.D. under the CIFRE program indeed helped them overcome the misconceptions that industrial employers traditionally have in France. Yet the study also shows that those who chose to come back to academia had a harder time: 40% of the respondents felt their CIFRE Ph.D. closed university doors. Thirty per cent of those who eventually found a job in academia felt it had been a handicap, a feeling that was shared by almost half of the respondents working in industry at the time of the survey.

The data indicate wariness among academic science toward research projects done in partnership with companies, the report says. Consequently some CIFRE graduates may also have been thwarted in their hopes to one day join academia, the report adds. Ultimatelty, if your career goal is to eventually work in academia, a CIFRE Ph.D. may not be the best preparation.  

You can download the full report from the ANRT Web site (in French)

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