Ph.D. Career Opportunities

Ph.D. Career Opportunities

Author: Bérénice Kimpe, Vera Koester, Vincent Mignotte

Dr. Vincent Mignotte is the Executive Director of ABG (Association Bernard Gregory), a French non-profit organization that aims to enhance the career development of doctorate holders and to help companies to recruit Ph.D.s. It offers a job board, where academic and industrial positions are advertised, as well as training courses on career planning and job search strategies. Together with the French Conference of University Presidents and the French professional association MEDEF, ABG has recently developed, an online skills portfolio for Ph.D.s.

Here, Dr. Mignotte speaks with Dr. Vera Koester for about his work and experiences he has made.


Can you please tell us why ABG was created?

ABG was created back in 1980 by the French Ministry for Research and two scientific institutions as a non-profit association. Since the 19th century, France has established very selective higher education organizations, called “Grandes Écoles”, that are attended by some of the best science students. Therefore, companies tend to recruit these students at the expense of Master’s and Ph.D. students.

The mission of ABG used to be highlighting the qualities of Ph.D. holders and bringing together companies and Ph.D. students. Today, many companies have Ph.D.s among their staff and our missions have changed. We are now facilitators in the recruitment process.


Do you think that the philosophy of ABG can be implemented outside of France?

As I said, ABG was created because of a duality in the French higher education system leading to a lack of recognition for the Ph.D. There was also another reason for its existence: the difficulty to get a tenured position in academia. This is a situation similar to many other European countries.

Doctorate holders often don’t feel prepared enough to opt out of academia, because they are accustomed to an academic environment. By creating a stronger awareness of professional options, we can help them master this situation: they won’t feel stuck anymore and instead be more in control of their career.

Of course we have to make some adjustments when we work with European partners, e.g., on country-specific application codes or job market exploration. To do so, we develop partnerships with international partners, like Ph.D. associations, Euraxess, or the CARE group. Any organizations working with Ph.D.s and concerned by their career development are more than welcome to join our network!


Can you tell what CARE is about?

CARE stands for Career Advisors for Researchers in Europe. It’s a network that was created by Dr. Barbara Janssen at the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ, German Cancer Research Center), Heidelberg, Germany, and Sarah Blackford at the University of Lancaster, UK, to share career development tools and resources across Europe and to share experiences in career guidance.


Can you say something about job opportunities at big companies versus small and medium sized companies?


Ph.D. students are often attracted by big companies because of the career development they expect and because these companies are well-known. However, we clearly see that small and medium companies (SMEs) are driving the job market and Ph.D. students should be aware of the opportunities they offer. SMEs have a strong need to innovate and they appreciate resourceful people.

Just to give you an idea of the weight of SMEs in the European research landscape: In France, companies under 500 people employ 50 % of the researchers today, the rate was only 21 % in 1980. In the US, 73 % of R&D staff is working in SMEs, 27 % in big companies. In Germany, SMEs are the main driver for R&D; their expenditure increased 87 % between 2004 and 2011 compared to only 30 % for the big companies.


Can you give advice on how to find out what kind of positions there are outside academia?

If you browse job boards like ours or the one provided by GDCh, you find lots of positions in industry for chemists: quality, production, R&D, communication, consulting, patent, cross-border and cross-sector cooperation, sales and marketing, regulatory affairs, procurement … By reading the job descriptions, you can get a first glimpse of what is expected from an employee in terms of responsibilities, qualities, and skills.

The most efficient way of exploring the job market is to get in touch with people working outside academia and to ask what they do and what they like about their career.


This is also the topic of our interview series Chemists Talk About Their Job.  What advice would you give to Ph.D.s to “sell” their doctoral and postdoctoral experience?

First they should define their career goals. Without goals, it is quite complicated to get into action. Second, they should not wait for opportunities to come to them, and start reaching for them by exploring the job market, as I explained before. By working closely with academic and economic partners, we noticed that they don’t use the same language. A Ph.D. targeting a position outside academia should keep this in mind. For example, the Ph.D. should prove what he or she says about his or her skills with concrete examples from the CV.

It is important to be able to tell a good story. To help Ph.D. students to work on their skills and on their story, we developed the online skills portfolio for researchers together with academic and industrial partners.


What do you enjoy the most in your position?

I love the small size of the association, enabling us to be flexible and reactive. Our services can be easily adapted to the changing needs of our clients, decisions can be made quickly.

The diversity of our partners and clients is also great: I love interacting with early-stage researchers one day and with companies the next. A great satisfaction is to see so many players involved in our missions: they all are committed to the cause and act to move it forward. It is stimulating to work within a very dynamic system. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


You love to quote famous people. Would you like to end the interview with a quote?

There is one quote I always include in my slideshows: “The Greeks bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language, the word ‘enthusiasm’: en-theos, a god within.” That’s from Louis Pasteur.

Enthusiasm is a fire that burns inside you and glows on the outside.


Thank you for this quote and the interview.

Vincent Mignotte studied at the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau. He received his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, and is a coach for managers and executives, certified by the Académie du Coaching, Paris.

During his research career at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), he led a research group for genetics and hematology at Créteil and later at Institut Cochin in Paris. He also held a position as Professor of Microbiology at ENSTA ParisTech, and as Associate Professor at the École Polytechnique. Today, he is Executive Director of the Association Bernard Gregory (ABG).




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