"Do you want to continue in the academic world? In this case, it is really important to choose carefully the laboratory you join after your thesis. Or do you want to join the private sector or set up your own company? These are questions to ask yourself before starting your PhD."
Laurène Rochat obtained her PhD in Life Sciences at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM) of UNIL in 2011. She is currently Laboratory Manager at Scitec Research SA, a chemical and microbiological analysis laboratory in Lausanne.
Thesis title: Study of the Regulation of Antifungal Activity in Plant-associated Pseudomonas Fluorescens.
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
LR: I did my studies at the University of Lausanne, a relatively classic path: a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, then a doctorate in fundamental microbiology. I then joined the private sector. I've been working for ten years in a company that provides analytical services in the environmental field.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
When I graduated from university, I felt that I didn't have enough practice and experience in project management and laboratory work. I really felt that I needed this experience so that I could then join private companies.
Did you have a career plan during your doctorate?
When I was doing my PhD, I knew that I didn't want to continue in the academic world. I wanted to join either a pharmaceutical or food company or a start-up. I wasn't clear about the size of the company I wanted to join, but I knew I wanted to work in the private sector.
You are a Laboratory Manager in a chemical and microbiological analysis laboratory. On the day of your defence, would you have imagined holding this position today?
Yes, because I already had it! I started this position about ten months before my defence. I started at 20% while finishing my experiments in the lab at UNIL. Then, after a few months, my thesis supervisor considered that I had enough data to write up my thesis. So I ended my contract with UNIL and finished my doctorate already employed at Scitec as Lab Manager.
What are your main tasks and how would you describe your role?
My role has evolved a lot. I started, so to speak, from the bottom up. I was mostly with the lab assistants learning the activities of the laboratory, not only microbiology, but also instrumental chemistry. After that I spent a few years in project, team and planning management. Today I still do project management and lab management, but I am also largely involved in the projection and renewal of the company's activities, i.e. finding new markets, evaluating the quality of our profit, directing activities towards this or that analysis according to what could be profitable for the company or according to the needs of emerging markets.
What do you enjoy most in your role?
Project management! I like the dynamic interaction with clients, colleagues and lab staff. It requires a great deal of organization. It's quite rewarding to see the guidelines, experiences, discussions and planning move projects forward: analyses are made, results come out; they’re evaluated and then given to the clients who draw conclusions from them. It's rewarding and satisfying because it gives a lot of meaning to our work.
What skills are essential for your role?
To be rigorous, and at ease in communication. You must also be motivated, flexible and anticipate as much as possible the problems that could arise.
During your doctorate, did you prepare for your entry into the job market?
During my PhD, I looked a lot at the job market to see what offers were on offer and to identify the profiles I was looking for. It wasn't necessarily very encouraging and reassuring, because it was mostly profiles in the regulatory affairs sector, in the immunology field or for very administrative positions. I had worked a lot on my CV. I didn't apply during my PhD, but I asked a lot of questions about how people who had worked in the private sector could get into a company. I was given the opportunity to work at Scitec through a rather fortuitous opportunity. During my thesis, I was working in an office with other colleagues. One day, the office phone rang. I answered it. It was someone from Scitec who was looking for a former colleague in the office. The person I was talking to told me that the company was looking for a microbiologist to start a project with a large pharmaceutical company and asked me if I was interested in meeting them. That's how I got into the company I work for today.
What would you say to someone who considers that the doctorate isn’t relevant for a career beyond academia?
I don’t think that the doctorate is essential to work in a company. On the other hand, it’s an experience that teaches us to organize our work, to be flexible, to look for information on our own. From a purely thematic point of view, my PhD is not applicable to what I do today. But from the point of view of my personal development and the development of my abilities, it was really useful.
What advice would you give to a PhD or postdoc researcher preparing for the next stage of their career?
To quickly identify his or her wishes for the future. Do you want to continue in the academic world? In this case, it is really important to choose carefully the laboratory you join after your thesis. Or do you want to join the private sector or set up your own company? These are questions to ask yourself before starting your PhD. Depending on what you want to do afterwards, you should choose the laboratory and the theme that interests you the best to do a PhD. In general, I encourage people to do a PhD because it is a very enriching experience on a personal level, not only on a scientific level.