How to take opportunities...

Clarisse Faria-Fortecoëf

Inorganic materials specialist, Olivier Majoulet got in 2012, a PhD in Materials Chemistry after research experiences in Berlin and Tokyo.


How did you get the opportunity to go to Berlin?


On the advice of his Master's thesis director at the University of Strasbourg and in the framework of his end-of-studies internship, Olivier Majoulet get in touch with a project manager of the Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) in Berlin. Thus, in 2008 and during 6 months, he will work at this Institute as Research Assistant, in the development of heterogeneous catalysts for biodiesel production. "The idea was to use biomass, a carbon source widely available to convert it into biofuel". In funding terms, the FHI's participation amounted to €300 per month and that of the Alsace Region, to €150 / month.
Some words about this experience?
"A very rich human experience. A pleasant and fantastic town, at the level of comfort, quality of life, infrastructures. An amazing experience, I have kept very good contacts. An Institute of Advanced Research (significant financial resources, impressive technology platform) and international with in our department, 70 researchers from 17 countries. I felt extremely well. I did not want to leave, I wanted to stay there to do my PhD". Although ideal conditions were met, no financing solution could be found to pursue this experience.
How did you get the opportunity to go to Tokyo?
While he was PhD student – co-supervised thesis between a laboratory of  the University of Lyon 1 and the MATEIS of the INSA –, a discussion with a colleague will lead Olivier to seriously consider the perspective of a new mobility.
After exploring the website of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), he will get in the framework of the JSPS Summer Program, a young researcher fellowship of approximately €6,000 for 10 weeks in 2010 (June-August), as well as the reimbursement of travel expenses.
To be selected he had to find by himself, a host laboratory in Japan and develop a research project in accordance with specifications. "What they want: to promote a high level of science and attract foreign researchers to launch sustainable partnerships and collaborations both in terms of projects and contracts with on-site research stays (postdocs, visiting professors)".
Hosted in a laboratory at Waseda University in Tokyo (more than 53,000 students including 2,400 foreigners), Olivier's research project, taking into account the available time, was very similar to that worked in the thesis field: development of porous materials for catalysis, "the general strategy was preserved, only the nature of the final product (host laboratory's skill) changed".
Some words about this experience?
"I loved, the organization was excellent. Japan has a complex operating mode and multiple traditions - paradoxically, things are done in a very logical and intuitive way, and in order to make life easier for everyone”. Upon arrival, during the early days and before everyone joins his/her host Lab., “they welcome all students (114 in total, of various nationalities: French, German, British, Canadian, American), with cultural initiation (music, calligraphy, tea ceremony), Japanese lessons (about 10 hours), handy hints... The accommodation: a room booked by the Japanese professor, in a residence of the university. In terms of language, it was a little bit more complicated, because only few people spoke English in the Lab., except a teacher - a great person - but it was not a major obstacle. Group outings were organized every week. I have kept many contacts, including with professors".
"A very instructive experience because it allows, first of all, to take advantage of the technological advance in Japan. Then, it allows to develop various qualities in terms of adaptation and  communication. Finally, a scientific paper of a good level was written based on each one's knowledge and a strong collaboration was set up. "
What are your plans today?
"I'm currently looking for a job".
The Forum Horizon Chimie held at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris on January 31,  2013 has been very constructive. The kind of event which allowed him to meet companies and their representatives, to get advice (job searching strategy, how to reactivate one's network...).
For Olivier whose objective is a position in R & D Engineering in the private sector, although a PhD is a professional experience in itself, he regrets not having done his thesis for example, in the framework of a CIFRE contract.
Work abroad? “Why not, there are no borders in job searching."
A post-doc? "Why not, but in the industrial sector."
And if you had to do it all again?
"I would do it again ten times. We feel lonely, the first time we are abroad, but it also helps to develop soft skills for example, in everyday life (open an internet connection, go to the doctor...). 
"I strongly recommend Japan, a country where everything is organized. I remember the words of a Japanese colleague who justified his country's many codes. It can explain a number of things: "In Japan, we follow the flow of the crowd, it guides ...""