"During my PhD, I focused on my career by trying to develop scientifically interesting collaborations with colleagues and professors."
Sandrine Haymoz obtained her PhD in Criminology at the School of Criminal Sciences of the UNIL Faculty of Law, Criminal Sciences and Public Administration (FDCA) in 2010. She became a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Social Work, Fribourg (HETS-FR).
Thesis title: Gangs in Switzerland: delinquency, victimization and risk factors (our translation)
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
SH: I am a professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Social Work, Fribourg, and I have two children.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
I did a Bachelor's degree in psychology, followed by postgraduate training in criminology. I did this training because I had specialized in school psychology and found it interesting to work with adolescents in the courts. I enjoyed studying criminology; its multidisciplinary dimension allowed me to analyse problems from different angles. During this training, I didn’t imagine I’d stay in the academic world and undertake a doctorate. I was fascinated by the research I carried out as part of my postgraduate thesis with Professor Martin Killias. It was he who proposed I do a thesis and that's how I started to do my PhD.
Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
Not really. I was above all passionate about the topic, and I was discovering the academic world as a professional. After being an assistant at the University for four years, I worked 60% at the Criminal Law and Crime Section of the Federal Statistical Office during the last year of my doctorate. I decided to pursue an academic career when I realised that my job at the Federal Statistical Office was not completely fulfilling. This was the trigger. I realised how much I enjoy the academic environment, research, teaching and contact with students.
What do you like most about this position?
I like to share my results. When doing scientific research, you're a bit cut off from practice. I place a lot of importance on communicating my research results (to police, social workers, school principals, teachers) so that this scientific research is useful. I also enjoy teaching and interacting with students, communicating research results, and stimulating questions in others.
Apart from your teaching and research activities, do you carry out other activities or do you have other commitments in your job?
No, with the exception of my involvement in a network of researchers working on gang issues. Sometimes I also give lectures in criminology at the University of Lausanne, and I’m occasionally a jury member for doctoral theses.
Is there a link between the subject of your thesis and what you are doing today?
Yes, totally. My doctoral subject was about youth gangs in Switzerland; I analysed the delinquency of young people who are part of gangs as well as their victimization and risk factors. I continue to analyse this phenomenon today, both nationally and internationally. For example, I am conducting a major international survey on juvenile delinquency and victimization in which fifty countries are participating; it is one of the largest surveys in the world on this topic. The subject of my thesis has been with me throughout my academic career.
Tell us about the path that led you to your current position?
First of all, I did two years of assistantship at the University of Lausanne. My thesis supervisor then went to the University of Zurich; I followed him as an assistant for two years from 2006 to 2008. Parallel to my assistantship at the University of Zurich, I held a 10% position at the UAS for Social Work in Fribourg, where I was responsible for supervising students' thesis work. During this activity, I met a professor who was interested in the topic of juvenile delinquency. We decided to set up a teaching module on the theme. As a result of this collaboration, I started teaching at the UAS in Fribourg in 2007. I left my position as an assistant at the University of Zurich at the end of 2008 due to a move to another part of Switzerland. I then worked at the Swiss Federal Statistical Office during the last year of my doctorate. I held this position until I left for the University of Irvine in California, where I did a post-doctoral fellowship funded by an SNSF mobility grant from 2011 to 2012. When I returned, I was hired as a professor at the UAS for Social Work in Fribourg. The fact that I had been a thesis director and had had teaching duties and research projects at this institution was an advantage in obtaining this position. I was appointed full professor in 2019.
The encounters I have had with professors and passionate people have played an important role in my career path and have given me the desire to continue in the academic world. When I decided to do a postdoc, I contacted a professor from the University of Irvine whom I had met several times at conferences. I wrote to her to tell her that I wanted to do a postdoc on the topic of gangs and to ask her if it was possible to do this research with her. She told me very soon after that she was ready to welcome me. This news was a strong moment that really oriented my career, just like when I received the positive response from the SNSF.
During your PhD, did you prepare yourself for the pursuit of your academic career?
Yes and no. During my PhD, I focused on my career by trying to develop scientifically interesting collaborations with colleagues and professors. I think that what helped me a lot was not hesitating to get in touch with professors at conferences. That’s how I was able to build up a network of contacts. Some of these meetings were very important. For example, when I was a doctoral candidate, I met a professor from the University of Genoa and proposed a collaboration (a Swiss-Italian comparative work on the theme of gangs). He was delighted with the proposal. He then helped me a lot in my thesis process: for example, he gave me good advice and recommended books. It was an extremely motivating encounter and we continue to write articles together.
What advice would you give to a PhD or postdoc researcher preparing for the next stage of their career?
Don't hesitate to approach professors who work on the same themes and to propose interesting collaborations. Another piece of advice is to remain passionate: to be a researcher, you need to have this passion and curiosity, just as you do for teaching.