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Brazil, Portugal, France

E. Jardin & C. Schoch

Denise Queiroz-Ricard got her doctorate in polymer chemistry from the University of Campinas in Brazil. After a postdoc in Lisbon, she looked for a job in France.

1/ How did your PhD go in Brazil?
I passed a competitive exam at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), then got a two-year grant from the Brazilian government to do my research masters. Later I landed a four-year scholarship for my PhD. Be aware, however, that the applicant selection procedure for the PhD is not the same in all Brazilian universities. Selection can be made either by competitive exam, or by application.

2/ Did you teach while you were working on your PhD?
No. I had to take four or five courses, each with exams, but it’s possible to get a teaching assistantship for section courses.

3/ Did you have to write articles before defending your thesis?
No, it wasn't mandatory in my university, but I attended several international conferences and I nevertheless had an article published. There are several Brazilian universities that require at least one published article before you can defend your thesis.

4/ What was the thesis defense like in Brazil?
You defend before a jury. To make up the jury, I chose 10 people and afterwards it was the chemistry department board that selected four out of the 10.

5/ How long does the defense last?
Usually the whole afternoon. Mine started early afternoon and finished around six o'clock in the evening. Presentation of the doctoral candidate lasts for half an hour, and then each member of the jury makes his comments. Once the thesis has been defended, the PhD student makes the corrections suggested by the jury and hands in the thesis to the jury and to the department.

6/ What's the format for the thesis?
It's an A4-size book. In my research unit, theses are about 150 pages long, but the length varies according to the research supervisor.

7/ With your PhD in hand, you went to Portugal. Why’s that?
Ever since I finished my masters, I wanted to go abroad. I thought about going to the United States and finally, I went to Germany during my PhD. I spent seven months at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mayence, and I met my husband, who is French, there. I went back to Brazil to finish my thesis. In 2000, we decided to go to Portugal. My husband had a job opportunity there and for me, it was a good solution because at the time, I didn't speak French.

8/ How did you find your postdoc?
Through a Brazilian professor who knew a colleague in Portugal, in Porto. Unfortunately, my boyfriend was in Lisbon! I nevertheless went to Porto and met with this professor who put me in touch with a colleague in Lisbon. I met that other professor who agreed to let me work with her. I started out without any funding, but then the professor got me my first three-month grant, then another one for four months. After that I asked the Portuguese government for a fellowship, but I didn't pass the exam. I racked up more publications, sat for the exam again and got a three-year fellowship. All told, I stayed in Portugal for five years.

9/ Were you working in the same area as your thesis topic?
I worked on different subjects. In Brazil, I worked on mixing polymers. In Lisbon, I worked on polymer membranes. It was more process-oriented. In Brazil, I worked in a chemistry institute and in Portugal, I was in the department of chemical engineering of the Instituto Superior Technico in Lisbon.

11/ After Portugal, why move to France?
During my time in Lisbon, I studied French at the Alliance Française. My husband and I wanted to come to France. We stayed longer than planned in Portugal, but we didn’t lose sight of the plan. In the month of April 2006, my husband found an opportunity to work in France with a Portuguese contract. Now we're trying to set up in the Paris area.

12/ What do you think about job-hunting in France?
It's very hard. I'm registered with the unemployment agency and I've done workshops on writing resumes and cover letters. Writing cover letters is rather strange for me because in Brazil, you just send in your resume.