From an Engineering degree to the company’s world and the PhD

Clarisse Faria-Fortecoëf

Back on the career path and mobility experience of Guilherme Apolinário Testoni, young Brazilian PhD student moving between Brazil and France, the public research and the private sector.

After a degree in Materials Engineering from the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Brazil, Guilherme Apolinário Testoni is currently a first year doctoral student in composites and biomaterials at the École des Mines Alès (France).

From Brazil to France

In 2010, before getting his Engineering degree, Guilherme will seize the opportunity to go a first time to France to do a Master in mechanical engineering at the l’École Nationale d'Ingénieurs of Saint-Etienne (ENISE).
"We were four Brazilian students, three colleagues and myself, from the same university. Two got a Brazilian funding through the CAPES/BRAFITEC program and two including myself, had a French funding in the framework of an agreement between the UFSC and the ENISE. As the candidates selection was strongly based on their French level, Guilherme spent the previous year of his departure, learning this new language.

Why France?

First of all, Guilherme took advantage of the contacts network of one of his Brazilian teachers who studied in France. Then, "Mechanical Engineering" enabled him to have dual skills which was one of his goals. "Furthermore, France's expertise in this field is internationally recognized. This therefore represents a real professional opportunity". However, he did not finalize his Master. "I did not want to, because the approach at Saint-Etienne was too focused on the design and modeling, it was not the career path I wanted. At the same time, it allowed me to validate some courses in Brazil and the required traineeship period of six months. This scheme is based on a Canadian model which integrates and alternates theoretical teaching and traineeship periods”. At the same time, "if I wanted to stay in France for a second year, I had no funding for that".

Between France and Brazil

So, at the end of the first year of the Master, Guilherme went back to Brazil to continue his engineering degree. Not for a longtime, because again he had to look for a traineeship. After getting in touch with some people of his professional network built in Brazil and France, he was recruited in 2011 by a company in Toulon interested by his experience both in mechanical and materials engineering, in the framework of a traineeship of seven months in the field of viscoelastic materials.

First entrepreneurship experience

After his Engineer graduation in Brazil in 2011, with two fellows from his University - "in Brazil, there is no "École d'ingénieurs", the public University, this is like the "Grandes Écoles" in France – Guilherme joined as Sales Manager, a Start-Up in the industrial waste treatment and management field. Although this position was quite interesting, it did not really match his goals. He then decided to continue in the research and to do a PhD in order to acquire skills that according to him, he had not and which are necessary for creation, innovation".

From Engineer to PhD student

One of the reasons justifying the choice of a doctorate in France, was that an engineer in Brazil before a thesis, he has to do a Master, which implies two additional study years. For example, Guilherme could not apply for a co-supervised thesis between these both countries. He then got in touch with one of the directors of his traineeship in the company in Toulon, looked for thesis offers and funding opportunities (Brazilian or French scholarship, science without borders program ...), checked out some websites, send CVs and so on. Among the three proposals (one in Italy and two in France) he received, it is that of the École des Mines d'Alès which was the most interesting for different reasons: the interest of the thesis' subject, the high level of research and funding opportunities (a research grant directly provided by the School).

A few words about the benefits of a PhD compared to your engineering degree, in relation with your career plan?

Doing a PhD that means "to be immersed for three years in innovation in interaction with other researchers. This is a more scientific approach compared to that of a company. You have also, more time to try new things.  As a doctoral student, I am the Manager of my own research, I am free to do my research. This is also what gives me a degree in Europe. This increases my chances in France, as in Brazil, even if it remains the problem of recognition and equivalence of degrees from one country to another. Furthermore, in France, many and more and more, PhDs work in companies which is quite rare in Brazil. Unfortunately, most of the doctors do not know how to value their skills. A doctor is a Project Manager, a skill highly sought after by the private sector. Anyway, there is still a lot of doctors working in companies and I have several examples around me. A PhD corresponds to my goals, my project".

And after the PhD?

"I think to continue in the R&D field in the private sector, particularly because it's quite difficult to work in the public education in Brazil, as the PhD is not recognized without the Master." Furthermore, if one of the objectives of Guilherme would be to create his own business, he will take before that, the advice of a professor met at a PhD students Day organized by the Association of the École des Mines d'Alès: "When you are in the research, you forget to consider some issues such as the acceptance problem of a product by the target market. It is therefore necessary to gain experience in the private sector before embarking on a business creation".

In France or in Brazill?

"This is a question I can not answer. For now, I'm focused on the thesis, I think about my future career, I develop my network".

Which advice would you give to a PhD student, a young researcher?

For Guilherme, there is no miracle. If you look carefully, you will always find a financing scheme. You have also to learn the language of the host country, alternate the academic work and the scientific experience and/or practice, build a network of contacts. "When I first came to France, it was not exactly what I wanted, but it allowed me to create a network and to more easily find funding". In terms of information sources, he especially recommend Campus France. "If you are interested in an international mobility experience, but you do not know where exactly, it allows you to have all relevant data on different countries". Through the Campus France Brazil website, Guilherme was able to prepare his departure and stay in France. "It is very well structured. Kind of questions Campus France allowed me to answer: Why France? Why studying in France? ".

The above comments were collected following the participation of Guilherme at the European workshop "Encouraging creativity and innovation through researcher mobility: strategies and best practices" which was hold in Paris on 3 and 4 June 2013.