Preparing EPFL PhD Students for life beyond the PhD

Over 60% of EPFL's PhD students choose a career outside of academia; the PhD Excellence Program facilitates smooth transitions and prepares students to excel in their future career.

To overcome the increasingly complex challenges of today, we need graduates from higher education institutions that are not only equipped with technical skills, but who have also mastered transversal skills such effective communication and the ability to excel within a team, whether member or leader. Indeed, the majority of EPFL PhD graduates choose careers outside academia – in industry, start-ups, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations - where these skills are critical for success - where these skills become critical for success. Professionals will hone and develop these skills over their whole career, but the participants of the EPFL PhD Excellence Program graduate with a head start that prepares them to be actively engaged members of society no matter their career choice.

Indeed, the participants are a select group of PhD students who are highly motivated to use their academic prowess to create a better world outside of the university. The EPFL PhD Excellence program accelerates this path by providing training in leadership, charisma, communication, management, science policy, risk management, and technology transfer, beyond the traditional PhD education. These trainings allow participants to acquire skills that most people don’t have the opportunity to develop so early in a career. In addition, networking events give them exclusive access to high-level figures in industry, policy, and innovation to start to build their network even before applying for their first position.

Furthermore, with students from all of the EPFL doctoral programs and associated campuses, the EPFL PhD Excellence Program enables a tight-knit community of students that might otherwise have never had the chance to come together. Notably, participants cite this as one of their favorite aspects of the program.

Want to know more? Keep reading for testimonials from current EPFL PhD Excellence participants about how they are developing skills sets for later that are already useful now and how the community enriches their PhD life at EPFL.

Interested to become a part of this unique community and find your own path outside of academia? The 2023 call for applications is now open until March 10th, 2023. For more information on how to apply, see the EPFL PhD Excellence webpage.


Why Did you apply for the PhD Excellence Program?

Marine:I applied because I wanted to bridge the gap between my scientific skills and my soft skills, which are necessary for smooth transition to industry. But these skills are already usefulnow for the PhD or when working in a team. I'm also more curious about effective communication in science, and I knew the program offers specific training in that.

Renan: I was looking to do something to better my leadership and team management skills.

Sandrine: I want to have more impact with my research and to do that it’s necessary to have more general skills in leadership and giving good talks, and that’s precisely what the EPFL PhD Excellence Program gives me.

What’s your favorite part about the EPFL Excellence Program:

Marine: The leadership training program is to die for!

Luc: I really enjoyed the leadership program because you get to do deep introspection about yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses and also your values. You have group sessions, you also have individual sessions where you get good feedback from the coaches. And it can be applied in any field. It's not only for science, it's also for your personal life and everyday life.

Jonas: My favorite part is always going to Lausanne and getting to meet with everyone in the program. We’re all coming from different scientific backgrounds and it’s a fun challenge to work with everyone’s diverse interests.

How is the EPFL PhD Excellence community?

Marine: The community's kind, benevolent and supportive. Getting to meet other students from diverse backgrounds, and other programs with amazing projects is really inspiring and you get to have those very fruitful discussions about your PhD project, but also about what you want to do later. This gives you new ideas and new perspectives for after.

Luc: Everyone has diverse scientific backgrounds and cultures. So, it's always great to meet with these people and discuss.

Sandrine: Okay, that's easy. It's excellent. No, honestly, it's very diverse, it's very open and you can really trust the people. Especially for the leadership training, where you reflect on yourself and it’s not always easy, you need to trust the community and the people you're taking the workshops and the trainings with.

How have you and/or your PhD benefitted from the EPFL PhD Excellence program?

Marine: It definitely gave me more confidence in general. It gave me more perspectives about all the job positions I could aspire for. It's also very refreshing to get to expand all those other transversal skills next to your PhD like leadership, communication. It turns out that it's really useful already now, and not only for later.

Luc: My PhD has already benefitted from the program by helping me to better express myself and transform complicated topics into accessible and engaging stories.

Renan: This program changed the way I see the world and my potential. Mostly how to deal with teams and identify the role of leaders in creating great teams and making them successful.

Sandrine: One great example of how I, and also my PhD, have already benefited from this program is in terms of communication skills. I’ve learned how to give a good talk, be present, and be engaging.

Jonas: As I’m doing research close to industry, with different partners, the program has helped me to be able to first communicate important points for the different actors (government, industry, etc.) and then incorporate their feedback into my own research to push it to the next level and adapt it to better society.


We would like to give special thanks to Fondation du Domaine de Villette and HOLDIGAZ SA for their generous donations.