"It's important to realize that there are more options than one might think after a PhD. You also need to have the nerve or courage to go out and ask questions and gather information from professionals about jobs that interest you."
Laure Dutoit obtained her PhD in Economics at the Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC) at UNIL in 2008. Since 2014, she is scientific project manager at the Swiss Health Observatory (OBSAN) in Neuchâtel.
Thesis title: An Analysis of Agricultural Development and the Market and an Econometric Survey.
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
LD: I’m a scientific project manager at the Swiss Health Observatory in Neuchâtel. I live near Yverdon and I’m a mother of two children.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
At the end of my Master's degree, I was interested in an academic career because I had enjoyed the research part of my studies. I had already told myself that I was going to do a PhD.
Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
No. During my PhD, I realized that I would enjoy working in international organizations. I asked about possible opportunities, but I didn't have a specific career plan.
You are a scientific project manager at the Swiss Health Observatory. On the day of your defense, would you have imagined holding this position today?
No, not at all. I didn't even know that this kind of observatory existed in Switzerland. At that time, I was really looking forward to a career abroad in an international organization.
What are your main missions and how would you describe your role?
The Swiss Health Observatory carries out analyses on the health system in Switzerland, mainly for the cantons and the Confederation. My job consists of managing contracts, responding to the needs of clients (i.e. the cantons and federal offices), performing statistical analyses and writing reports on the health system in Switzerland. It’s a job that includes several dimensions: statistical analysis, programming for statistical programs and project management (client and budget management, fulfilment of offers).
What do you like most about this position?
The range of tasks. I like carrying out empirical analyses and seeing that they are subsequently used by the cantons and the Confederation. You can feel that our work is useful. That's very important to me.
What are the core competencies to carry out this task?
Analytical and research skills as well as writing skills.
Could you tell us about the path that led you to your current position?
During my PhD, I realized that what I was interested in was joining an international organization. After my PhD, I passed the exam to join the UN and I went to work for two years in Chile with the UN. What I was doing really corresponded to the theme of my thesis. But I was quickly disappointed by the work of international organizations and the UN. I had the impression that I was doing my job to justify my position, but that it was not necessarily useful. I missed the "seriousness" of the PhD. I terminated my contract and returned to Switzerland. I trained as a teacher at the HEP and taught at a high school for two years. I chose teaching because I liked the idea of knowledge transmission and because I had experience in this field: I had had teaching duties at UNIL during my doctorate and I had done replacements in schools. After two years, I realized that I was not passionate enough to make a career in teaching. It was at this time that I started to research positions that could fit my profile. I realized that there are firms that do empirical studies on behalf of the cantons and various organizations. I asked to be able to talk to one of these offices to find out what they do; I didn't want to get into something new without knowing if I would like the work. I had a discussion with nice people who welcomed me and explained their work to me. Following this interview, which I really enjoyed, I sent a spontaneous application which resulted in a job offer. I worked in that design firm for two years. Through that job, I discovered the Swiss Health Observatory because I sometimes did work for them. I joined the Swiss Health Observatory in 2014 when a position opened up.
During your PhD, did you prepare for your entry into the job market?
No; let's just say that I only prepared myself for the steps that would allow me to join the UN.
How do you respond to those who feel that the doctorate is not relevant to a non-academic career?
At the Swiss Health Observatory, 80 to 90% of project leaders have a doctorate; it’s a diploma that is increasingly in demand. People still think that the thesis is very complicated research with little use outside the academic world. However, you learn how to do research during the PhD - whether it’s empirical or theoretical - and these research principles are useful in professional life.
What advice would you give to a PhD or postdoc researcher preparing for the next stage of his or her career?
To do what I did after my teaching period in a high school: look for information about what opportunities exist that might be of interest. At university, we only have the academic community in mind and I think that professors themselves do not know all the possibilities that future doctors have. It is important to realize that there are more options than one might think after a PhD. You also need to have the nerve or courage to go out and ask questions and gather information from professionals about positions that interest you.
Published on 24 May 2021