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PhD testimonial: Alexandra Delvallée, from intern to research engineer at the LNE (French National Laboratory of Metrology and Testing).

Today, Alexandra Delvallée is a research engineer at the LNE (Laboratoire National de Métrologie et d'essais). She has climbed the career ladder since her Master 2 research internship. She shares with us her career path, as well as insights on research in metrology and its expectations.

Visuel_article_Alexandra_Delvallée_ABG

Author : Alexandra DELVALLEE, PhD


Career and Profession 

Evolution within the LNE

LNE and Networking


CAREER AND PROFESSION

What is your background?

After a scientific preparatory school (PCSI-PC), I studied "Science of matter" at the University of Artois (Lens, Pas-de-Calais). Then, I moved to the Paris region to follow a professional programme at the University of Evry Val d'Essonne, specialising in Materials, and especially in Nanomaterials and Surface materials. During my Master 2 degree, I had the opportunity to do my internship at the LNE, which allowed me to write a CIFRE thesis in collaboration with ENSTA. This thesis was about the dimensional metrology of nanoparticles measured by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

 

What does your job involve? What are your responsibilities?

My job takes place in a department with mixed objectives: research objectives and commercial activities. My job is therefore very varied with typical research work (processing, writing articles, scientific projects) as well as the development of commercial activities including service and quality. We offer high value-added services, so the commercial activities are very much linked to the research activities.

Concerning scientific projects, I coordinate internal projects concerning international activities with more experienced colleagues, the development of the French metrological atomic force microscope (AFM) as well as a multidisciplinary project on the characterization of graphene. I also participate in various international projects that take place in the framework of European metrology (EMPIR program).

 

What do you like and dislike about your job…

Among my daily activities, what I like most is spending time in the lab. Also, what I like most is to be able to continue learning every day. Metrology is particularly well suited to this: you must constantly question everything, including yourself! LNE is also conducive to this since it brings together many different skills and disciplines. I am less interested in the commercial aspect, but it's also a field in which I'm learning lots of things.

 

 
What are the essential skills needed for this profession?

 

Metrology requires being organized and methodical. Even fastidious. You must know how to find information by all means: articles, network, experimental work. As for the skills related to my field, it is very difficult to answer. Personally, I have skills in materials, instrumentation, and metrology, but we need a wide range of skills daily, especially for instrumental development. As metrology hates "black box" instruments and software, we like to develop our own methods and instruments, which requires knowledge of mechanics, electronics, software development, image processing, mathematics, and statistics...

 

 

EVOLUTION WITHIN THE LNE

 

Your LinkedIn profile indicates that you joined LNE as an M2 trainee, and that you work there now as a research engineer? What dynamics have driven you in this career path?

 

I was lucky enough to be offered a PhD candidate position after my internship, followed by a post-doctoral contract and then a permanent contract at the LNE. I very quickly felt integrated into the team. It is true that I can be reproached for having a rather monotonous career path, and for not having seen enough “diverse approaches” compared to most researchers. However, I did my post-doctoral contract in another LNE team, in electrical nanometrology, where I learned a lot about electricity, which was very far from my initial field. Moreover, as the LNE brings together a wide variety of professions and disciplines, I find that the interactions that take place at work are far from monotonous!

 

 
How did this internal career path work out in practice?

 

Coming from a professional master's degree, I did not initially want to do a thesis but rather to work directly after the M2. However, my internship was very research-oriented and after many discussions with my supervisors at the time (and with my current colleagues), I understood that I would like to do research. After my PhD program, the electricity department of the LNE, which was looking to develop a new activity in electrical nanometrology, offered me a post-doctorate position, which I accepted. The permanent contract came afterwards in a different team. And finally, a position in my original team became available, which I joined.

 

 
How did you prepare yourself to deal with new challenges?

 

When I made the transition to electrical metrology, I was not confident about my electrical skills, which were pretty basic. I was fortunate enough to work with very understanding colleagues who knew my background and took advantage of my "nano" skills when I was learning electrical skills from them.

 

 

What about the supervision you received (as an intern, then as a PhD candidate)?

 

When I arrived as an intern, one of the tasks I was assigned to was to set up the basics of an image processing software. My background, however, had not allowed me to learn code at all, and they still trusted me knowing this. My supervisors took their time and allowed me to develop my skills in this field that was totally unknown to me, all in the short time of an internship, I learned two things: that it is very unlikely to fit 100% into a "researcher" type job offer, and that I can fill in the "gaps". Being directly confronted with a problem is very formative.

 

 
Does the LNE offer cross-disciplinary training to its doctoral students? If so, on which axes / themes? Did you take part into it? How has this enriched you?

 

Indeed, the LNE is also a training center, and it is possible to take advantage of in-house training. There are very few bachelor's/master's degrees that offer complete metrology courses, but only "initiations". For PhD candidates, a very large internal training catalog is available, including specific and transversal training courses.

 

 

LNE AND NETWORKING

 

What about networking? How is it practiced at LNE (internal events, formal/informal meetings?)? Has it played a role in your progress?

 

Internally, scientific networking can take place directly within the team, depending on the host department. At the LNE, "Doctoral meetings" and "Research and Development seminars" are organized every six months.

As far as external networking is concerned, I was lucky enough to arrive at the LNE as they were launching the "Club nanoMétrologie", a national network of academic, industrial, and institutional players in the field of nanometrology, led by the LNE and the CNRS's Centre National de Compétences en Nanosciences (C'Nano), the Club nanoMétrologie (CnM). This club organizes annual meetings as well as "technical days" and inter-comparisons in which I have been actively involved since my PhD. I still lead a working group there today.

Finally, as a PhD candidate, post-doctoral researcher, and research engineer, I have always been encouraged to present our results at national and international conferences, which are conducive to networking.

Researchers are one of the most mobile workforces in the world.
What opportunities for mobility or international collaboration does the LNE offer?

 

Metrology is, by its very nature, a field in which international collaboration is necessary to have a homogeneously distributed international unit system. International comparisons are therefore organized on a regular basis, sometimes leading to exchanges of researchers. For international collaboration, the LNE and French metrology in general take part in a European program called EMPIR.  A call for projects is made every year for three-year projects on major themes such as industry, the "green deal", etc. Exchanges of researchers are also possible within the LNE.

 

 

 

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