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Making the PhD a bench-mark diploma in the French system

The doctorate is the highest university grade you can get, but it still suffers from a poor image in French industry (and this in not the case elsewhere).

Making the PhD a bench-mark diploma in the French system

Only 13.6% of the research scientists in France have a PhD, and 50% have an engineering diploma. “We do note a certain resistance on the part of the enterprises to recruit doctors, even for research positions”, says Ghislaine JOLY-BLANCHARD, director of Training programmes and Pedagogy at UTC-Compiegne. The outcome is that only 4% of French engineers actually do a doctoral thesis whereas the bench-mark throughout the world has become the PhD. Maybe the answer lies in cultural differences? “In France, anyone with a doctorate will primarily be seen as an academic research scientist, building, so to speak, his/her own Ivory Tower with a knowledge base far removed from any entrepreneurial needs. In an Anglo-Saxon vision states that the ” bottom line is business”, whereas in France in particular and Latin countries in general, we are knowledge pundits,” summarise Pascal OLOGOUDOU, an expert in manpower questions and recruiting. ”There’s no denying it, the know-how of our PhDs is directly transferable and transposable to comply with business needs.”

How can this be ? “We would unfortunately have to begin to change mentalities and a priori those of French enterprise continue to see the doctorate degree as a high-level scientific qualification, often disconnected from socioeconomic reality and the professional world”, says, with a touch of regret, Audrey DRELICH, lecturer at the UTC-Compiegne’s TIMR Laboratory. The role of the PhD is therefore underestimated in France and for the time being, going abroad still seems to be the solution envisaged by a majority of French scientific or technological doctors, who emigrate to the USA or Germany where PhDs who are experts can directly get involved in the decision making processes of the enterprise they join.

“In France, so the standard analysis has it, an engineer will become the manager and the PhD will stay in his role as a scientific or technical specialist”, says Frédéric KORAZLEWSKI, who has the dual function of scientist and manager at SAOFIU ADVENTIS based in Pennsylvania. “In the USA, it is commonplace for a PhD to be offered a position in management and top staff echelons, and the profiles needed here are definitely more international in scope.” With the proviso that during the PhD period you must multiply the occasions to engage on international co-operation. Unfortunately, “the thesis as it is organised and overviewed today in France lacks international components”, regrets Prof. George FADEL, guest professor from Clemson University (USA).

Three questions to Morgan SANGEUX, laureate for the Guy DENIELOU Prize, in 2007 and research scientist in bio-engineering recruited by the University of Mebourne, Australia.

 You were awarded your degree in engineering by UTC-Compiegne in 2007. Why did you choose to continue in doctoral studies?

“After gaining my engineering degree, I rapidly envisage doing a thesis as a long-term project, in essence I would be both architect and the prime contractor. I found it terribly exciting, when I started studying for the PhD, to think that the benefits of the next three years depended only on my personal willpower to succeed and on my commitment to run a research project. When you are 22 or 23 years old, nobody normally has this sort of opportunity. In this respect, the thesis is fundamentally different from any simple job in an enterprise. In my own case, the thesis played the revelatory role for my future career as a research scientist.”

 Now that you have expatriated yourself to Melbourne, what parallel would you draw between the status of a PhD in France and one in Australia?

“Unfortunately, France gives recognition only to its diplomas and not to the any skills or competence that the graduates may have. In Australia, but the same holds elsewhere in the world, I think, the recruiting personnel look first at the sort of person you are and then at the degree(s) you have acquired. They are more interested to see what you really can do and not the potential that usually goes with your diploma or at the engineering school you attended, no matter how famous the latter may be.”

 What is your opinion as to the best way to valorise a PhD, notably in France?

“France has to (re)invent the engineering doctor degree PhD Eng, just as was done in Great Britain. This PhD Eng if it were to be awarded both by the universities and by the engineering schools would be a bonus to a thesis in a domain of the engineers’ world. The advantage is self-evident. We could build on the excellent reputation of the engineering diplomas delivered in schools of engineering [the Grandes Ecoles], while distilling research techniques to persons whose immediate and natural calling is to join the R&D teams in enterprise. This link between enterprise and university would be reinforced and the R&D teams in France could look forward to recognition as real professionals of the research world”.

The CDEFI creates the degree of engineer-doctor

The CDEFI ( in French, the Conférence des directeurs d’écoles françaises d’ingénieurs [the consortium of the directors representing all the engineering schools in France] is about to create a new degree, that of engineer–doctor with a special rider “doctoral degree in engineering for enterprise” that would be awarded by a doctoral school on the basis of a contract agreement. The idea here is to offer SMEs graduates with diplomas that encompass a vision of innovation and the relevant know-how to manage innovation.