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How do you become a PROMIS ESR ?

Fresh new year, fresh new blog post! And on a fresh topic … How does one become a PROMIS ESR? And also, how does one decide to do a PhD in the first place? Here’s my story.

Meet Julie, 24th year old, in my final year of MASc in Nanotechnology. Originally from a tropical island, I followed my significant other to the other side of the planet in wonderful but freezing Canada. We have been living in Ontario for three years now and dream about new adventures. Actually we are considering leaving Canada for South America after I graduate, to find whatever job there and keep traveling forever. All my friends are already working in companies, I am the last one “studying”, I can’t wait to finish my degree and “live the real life” as they say.

That’s when life decides to shake you a bit. For me it was in the form of an email. Someone from a big company wanted to interview me for a job. My first reaction was “Wow… this company really wants to interview me?!”. The second one however was to panic, realizing I had strictly no idea what to do with my life. The feeling got worse as, during the interview, the lady’s very first question was “so Julie, what do you picture yourself doing after you finish your MASc thesis?”. I am not sure what I responded but that’s when I decided I really needed to figure it out.

Following my partner’s suggestion, I went to the University’s center for career action and took up a fair amount of personality and skills tests. The results were unambiguous. I was made for scientific research. I was not likely to feel comfortable in a private company where I would have to deal with marketing and business. The speakers also helped us to determine what our priorities were in job search: do you prioritize a good salary? Nice coworkers? Flexible working hours? … What is the absolute requirement of a job for you to thrive in it? It turned out my priority was to find a job in agreement with my moral values. Second priority was that the job should be a never-ending technical challenge to keep me interested. Here we were, research was the way.

Now, that dramatically changed our plans. Strangely enough however, the decision seemed to be quite a relief to my relatives. They said they always knew I could not stop after the MASc. My partner was particularly thrilled as he felt I really found what I was made for and not just what (French) society was expecting from me (sadly, PhDs in France do not have the prestige they have in other parts of the world). We started looking for PhDs in all countries of the world. There are many different research environments one could work in and I did not want to cut any opportunity so I was especially interested in joined programs with the industry. I discovered that many types of PhDs existed and started to get lost in the flow of information I was digging in. To help me out, I started to ask around to my friends about their own experience. That’s how I heard of the Marie Curie scholarships, combining governmental research centers, academy and industry. Also the program was offering a very comfortable salary which was unhoped for someone accustomed to graduate studies in North America. I started scrolling down and down the offers page on the website, desperate to find a project that suited my science interests. Here it was, a photovoltaic project using exactly the technology I had expertise in … in France.

Oh no … I did not want to go back to France, I wanted to keep discovering new countries and cultures. Plus, there was no way I could convince my partner to go back to France. But hey I would be part of an international consortium with which I would be in constant interaction. Also, the secondments would allow me to visit other partners for months. And instead of developing further my skills in English only, I could have the opportunity to improve my Spanish and why not learn even more languages. Finally, we would get a financial help for my partner’s moving as well as we are common-law partners. All of these arguments finally convinced us that this was the right job for me and I sent my application file.

Looking back, the PROMIS program brought me even more than what I was expecting. I take part in a project I am passionate about, dealing with solar energy (agreement with moral values, check!). I actually discovered in my own country a working environment very different from the ones I have been used to in North America. I develop my professional network in Europe, where, I believe, working exchanges between partners/countries are more numerous and transparent. I take advantage of the secondments to develop new technical skills inaccessible for someone that stays at a single university for a full PhD. Also it gives me the chance to immerge completely in a different culture, not only in different countries but also in different environments like the industry or research centers. I attend seminars from world-renowned scientists during our consortium meetings. I started to learn new languages to communicate even more easily with the consortium. In short, I’m loving it!

I know it sounds like a commercial but I am just sharing my story and opinion here. I would conclude with a piece of advice in case a reader ever finds himself in the deep questioning of his life goals … Listen to your relatives! They know you even better than yourself. And don’t hesitate to use centers for career action, whatever they are called in your university. These people actually care about you finding your place in the society and they have secret ways for you to achieve it. Also, they know where to find the information about just the program/job that suits your needs.

Tue 10 January 2017