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Getting PhD graduates into the workplace : Mines Nantes mobilises its efforts

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In order to get its PhD students ready for their future career, Mines Nantes has set up a support program which involves soft skills training, discovering the world of work, and even one-to-one coaching.

Gone are the days of the research scientist, stuck in a laboratory far from the rapidly changing world. This is particularly true at Mines Nantes, where the PhD students, alongside their research in the laboratory, can access outreach activities and training designed to prepare them for their professional lives.

"PhD students are not just under a contract with a laboratory for three years. Throughout this time they are also students ", stresses Sylvie Le Goff who is responsible for the "orientation of the PhD training", which brings together the whole range of the activities at Mines Nantes included in the PhD program. This has given her the chance to become involved with the school's business incubator, to work with the engineers, and to take part in training which will be useful for her career.

As a general rule, throughout all French doctoral schools there is a three-fold objective : to increase scientific training, to ensure a pathway to the world of work, and to assess the professional integration of young scientific researchers. This adds up to about a hundred hours of training in different shapes and forms. However Mines Nantes, with three doctoral schools, goes much further than that : in total there are approximately 150 hours of scientific and professional training for each PhD student, a considerable part of which is made to measure, according to future career orientation. The program includes how to deal with an interview with your thesis supervisor, or to address a panel of scientific experts as well as how to chair a meeting, prevent conflicts, and manage a team. These are not only important contributions to a PhD, but also to the career which follows. "It's really about action training, focused on behavior, explains Sylvie Le Goff. Training is given by coaches or company executives."On top of that, there is a component focusing on the structure and workings of companies, the effects of strategy in a competitive environment, and the project approach. In addition, the PhD students also receive coaching one-to-one or in pairs, in order to build up a solid foundation for their future career, which will match their ambitions and skills.

 

The profiles companies are looking for.

 

Over the last five years, this program has helped more than a third of the PhD students taken on by the school. On a regular basis, since 2012, a quarter of the PhD students have been taken on by the companies, with several new companies being set up through the business incubator. 18 months after submitting their thesis, more than a third are then taken on by industrial companies. In most cases it involves large companies and groups such as EDF, SNCF, Veolia and AREVA, who are particularly interested in these profiles, and see the three-year PhD as three years of experience. But SMEs are joining in too, following the example of Brangeon (waste management) and Sigma (IT), who signed up to the CIFRE agreements (Industrial agreements for training through research). The PhD students are themselves looking more and more towards working in companies. "A third of them know exactly what they want to do when they have finished their PhD – whether it be an academic career, in a company or post-doc, explains Sylvie Le Goff. The others don't have an exact idea of what they want to do and are open to different options. Whatever the choice they make, this program is designed to help them on their career path.

As part of his PhD, submitted in 2013, Younes Matar did a course entitled " Doc challenge" designed to prepare students for the world of work. He put it to good use : straight afterwards, he was hired by HENGEL Industrie, an SME which manufactures storage equipment for bakeries and restaurants. "I was able to use my engineering PhD training in the service of industrial innovation", explained the young doctor of engineering.

"Companies are not always aware of the skills which the young research scientists possess, points out Sylvie Le Goff. We need to communicate more effectively so that they understand what the training involves. Contrary to popular belief, PhD students do not work in isolation: they learn to communicate, to share their knowledge, to collaborate as well as to meet deadlines. In this way they acquire a range of skills and practical knowledge about how to apply for patents, intellectual property law, and applying for funding. All this could be very useful within a company."  

 

 Mines Nantes organised les Doctoriales Pays de la Loire in 2014, with the Université de Nantes, Centrale Nantes and ONIRIS. " We invited the 100 PhD students in the region to take up the challenge of 24h Innov’. A jury made up of local companies including  AIRBUS, La Florentaise, Intuiti tactique digital, Sigma, and Noroit assessed the projects put forward, for setting up new companies. The companies taking part were agreeably surprised by what the groups of 10 PhD students from different disciplines were able to come up with. Until now, this event has taken place in the region, every two years."

 

Mines Nantes : Increasing numbers of PhD students

 

The number of PhD student has steadily increased, by  2 or 3 % per year. There are now around 125 of them, in the three doctoral schools : "Engineering sciences" (SPIGA), "Information and communication science and technology" (STIM), and lastly "Matter, molecules, materials" (3MPL).

- About half of the students come from abroad : there are 29 nationalities working in the school's laboratories. Women make up 26 % of the workforce.

- Around 9 to 10 % of the PhDs are signed up to the CIFRE agreements (Industrial agreements for training through research), while between 13 and 14 % are under joint supervision.

- Depending on the years, between 4 and 8 % of the PhD students are graduates from within the school, while 10 to 20 % come from other engineering schools.

- It generally takes between 38 and 40 months to complete a PhD.

- 4 to 8 % of the engineers continue to write a thesis.

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