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43 : UTC’s PhDs: our key players for innovation

Dans un monde où l’innovation – en particulier technologique – occupe une place croissante, les compétences des docteurs spécialistes des sciences de l’ingénieur et notamment des docteurs ingénieurs apparaissent de plus en plus stratégiques. L’UTC entend préparer ses étudiants à cette nouvelle donne.

43 : UTC’s PhDs: our key players for innovation

the VAE path to prepare and defend a PhD

[Translate to Anglais:]

Florent Bouillon, an engineer with the Safran Group, 45 years old, chose the VAE path to prepare and defend a PhD this under the academic supervision of Prof. Zoheir Aboura, UTC-Roberval Laboratory. 

 Why did you choose to do a PhD?

After gaining my engineering diploma, I decided to join Aerospatiale, attracted as I was by programmes such as Ariane V – and from that point on, I was always engaged in R&D activities. Today my position is in structural programme development with Safran Ceramics – Safran’s “excellence’ centre for research on very high temperature resistant materials.  The subject chosen for my PhD came through discussions with my colleagues: foreigners who are not familiar with the French engineering diploma were surprised that I did not have a doctorate, and indeed many people in France thought that my work was more akin to a PhD research scientist than a ‘classic’ engineers working hands-on, so to speak. And the idea sort of grew me and as I saw the VAE scheme developing, I decide to join in.

What is the procedure leading to the VAE diploma?

I authored a dissertation (170 pages) with the title “Contribution to methodological development when justifying and certifying composite materials for use in aeronautic structures”, which I shall present and defend in June. It is a standard synthesis of research and work carried out during my professional engineering career. The aim was to present methods developed top assess and certify the behaviour of structures assembled with a new composite material to ensure that it complies with the operational service constraints and the specific safety regulations that are specific to the aeronautic sectors. Another objective was to demonstrate that the work I had accomplished in my professional environment was at the same level of quality as that of a classic PhD student. However, a VAE dissertation has an extra feature, compared with the classic PhD thesis. VAE candidates are invited to analyse their previous experiences, over and above the scientific results and achievements. Taking the time needed to analyse one’s own track record is not at all easy, but is amazingly enriching.

When all is said and done, it is a demanding exercise. I thought I would need a year and a half (max) but in fact I took three years remembering that at the same time I was in charge of a project at Safran, Ceramics (with a topic related to my PhD thesis): to manage the certification of a ‘world first’ part with a composite on a ceramic matrix to be installed in a civil aircraft.

Why did you choose UTC-Roberval to write your dissertation?

I had already worked on research topics that associated Safran and UTC-Roberval, and I was in charge also of some PhD students who were dieted by UTC-Roberval academics. What you have here is a university laboratory whose vision I share, all the more so that it does not erect walls between academic research and innovation-intensive activities. At the Safran Group, R&D is part of our DNA. Our place on the podium for patent claims is a significant marker. To make a difference with our competitors, we must innovate constantly and in this respect conduct research with necessarily applied finalities, notwithstanding some basic science questions and issues to be solved. Our progression runs to-and-forth between research and innovation. UTC is totally in line with this vision. My choice also depended on the relationships I built with members of the Roberval team, and especially with Professor Aboura. With colleagues and a supervisor like these, I was confident I could successfully complete my research assignment.

What personal benefits do you think you will draw from a PhD award?

Above all other considerations, there is my pleasure and pride, and these constitute the first source of my motivation. Secondly, the title “Dr” is recognised internationally. Moreover, in order to enhance innovation, the Safran Group has set up a family of experts, with three levels – corporate experts with one of the Group’s companies, experts for and with the Group and emeritus experts. I myself am a corporate expert and, even if it is not an ‘open-sesame’ key, a PhD is a form of proof that can help me become a Group expert. But I must add that my personal objective – shared by the Safran Group – is to be able to work in an interaction with the academics and not just sub-contract research projects on a customer/supplier basis. By investing time, efforts and energy to gain my PhD, I, in fact, gathered the assets to progress even further and this is enriching for me, for the Group, and for the partner laboratories        

You are now recruiting PhDs yourself – what profiles are you looking for?

Safran Group likes PhDs and recruits a lot of PhD students under CIFRE contracts. Often, in research clusters we mostly find young PhD students who already have an engineering diploma, to the extent that a ‘double degree’ (PhD + engineer) is an advantage and after defending their dissertation thesis, many are recruited by the Group. But it is not always obvious to find candidates here.