Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.
This academic year, Voices of ECRs will focus on PhD holders who are now working outside academia. Our first interviewee is Armelle Le Mouëllic, an architect and a communication and development manager in an architecture office in Nantes. She was a visiting researcher in Waseda University (2014) and obtained her PhD in architecture at Grenoble Alpes University in 2015.
Can you tell us a little about your PhD thesis? How did you come to this field? Did you work outside academia before the start of your PhD and if so, did this affect your research interests and your current career?
My PhD thesis looks at the tools and expertise architects use to participate in collaborative urban processes. My case study was based on an experiment led by a Japanese urban design laboratory. The aim of this centre was to help a local community redesign its built environment after an earthquake in central Tokyo. I started my doctoral research following a one-year stay as an exchange student in this laboratory which I did during my MA.
During my final year of architecture school, I had an internship in a non-profit organisation that promotes architecture, urbanism and durability for local communities and cities. I was in charge of organising a workshop which involved high school students, and local communities. This internship made me realise how important it is for architects to reflect on how they communicate with local communities.
When did you submit your thesis; what did you do in the months following submission/the viva?
I submitted my thesis in October 2015 and passed my viva in December. In the months following, I rested (!), visited family and went to job interviews.
When and why did you start considering a career outside academia?
I had been aware throughout my PhD that it was going to be quite hard for me to start a career in academia. In the last year of my doctorate I took a class which helped students prepare for professional conversion. I was also quite interested to see how architects communicate to the wider public about their projects during the design process.
What fields (outside academia) looked the most appealing and why / how did you feel you would fit into them?
It was very natural for me to consider entering the professional world of architecture. But I also thought about working in book or magazine publishing, and am still considering this career path.
What were the challenges you faced during the application / interview process?
Surprisingly, it was easier than I thought. Because I graduated in the same field as the recruiter, we had some very interesting conversations during the recruitment process. They asked me a lot about what a PhD in architecture entails as doctorates in this field are quite new (less than 10 years old).
The most challenging period was when I actually started working for the company!
Could you tell us a little about your non-academic career so far and your current job? What are your main responsibilities? How does a typical week in this job look?
I am in charge of communication in an architecture office. My job is to step outside the everyday procedures of the office in order to help improve their communication. I am also in charge of business development and choosing which projects the company should apply for. This also includes our international development.
In a way, I am in charge of all the writing that’s being done in the company.
How has your training as an academic facilitated the transition to a job outside academia?
My academic training has given me the ability to read, listen or look at many different things with a critical eye. In turn, these skills help me get to the core of questions which matter in the world of architecture. As a PhD student, I was also concerned about images and their relations to texts especially when I was writing my thesis.
Finally, my international experience was important in helping me to contribute to the international development of the business.
What advice can you give to graduate students considering a career outside academia?
Throughout my PhD, I talked a lot about my research with family, friends, architects and journalists… especially through social media. All these discussions and the feedback I received gave me a positive image of what I would be able to achieve in architecture and how my academic training could be useful.
Also I would probably have to stress how hard it is to transition from academia to working in a company – I must say nobody really warned me about this.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I am quite concerned about this new policy of encouraging young PhD students to enter the private sector especially in the field of social science.