|EPFL education does not necessarily lead to academic careers. Nevertheless, 22% of former EPFL postdocs and 7% of EPFL PhDs obtain a professorship 4 years after leaving EPFL. Academic careers are international: 86% of EPFL alumni holding a professorship do so abroad. This data story describes the careers of those who pursue an academic career.
Between 2016 and 2018, EPFL awarded an average of 415 doctorates yearly and hired 350 people for their postdoctoral training. Most of these people (83%) are of foreign nationality and stay at EPFL for an average of 4.5 years for a doctorate and 2 years for a post-doctorate. This study analyses their career paths after leaving EPFL.
Career after EPFL
The majority of these highly qualified people now work outside academia. They mainly work in the private sector and, to a lesser extent, in the public sector or non-governmental organisations. They contribute in this way to alleviating the systemic shortage of engineers in Switzerland. In some cases, they set up their own businesses.
Nevertheless, the EPFL is a launchpad for a permanent position in academic research.
Among those who obtained a doctorate at EPFL between 2016 and 2018, 30% are now pursuing an academic career. Of these, 7% hold a professorship, 10% another permanent position in academia and 16% a temporary scientific position in another institution. 2% are in administrative or research support roles within universities.
Some 47% of the postdoctoral researchers in the same period are pursuing an academic career to this date. Of these, 22% hold a professorship, 18% another permanent academic post and 7% a postdoctoral fellowship in another institution.
Academia: an international job market
EPFL’s strength lies partly in its international outreach. Most alumni at doctoral or postdoctoral level are of foreign nationality. However, 62% of those outside academia today have found a job in Switzerland. EPFL contributes to Switzerland’s attractiveness for the highly qualified people and the industrial competitiveness the country needs for its economic prosperity.
By their very nature, academic careers are international. They demand a high degree of mobility from junior academics. Three out of four EPFL alumni who are currently pursuing an academic career do so outside Switzerland, mainly in a European country (40%), but also in North America (18%) and Asia. The countries where alumni most often find faculty positions are the USA, China, Switzerland, the UK and Germany.
The degree of international mobility differs by nationality: half of the scientists from China return to their country of origin after their EPFL experience (52%). They routinely find faculty positions there. Similarly, 60% of Swiss scientists who continue their academic careers are currently working in Switzerland. Scientists of other nationalities, on the other hand, are much more mobile: 65% of those pursuing an academic career do so in a country other than their country of origin.
While academic careers are reputed to be difficult, EPFL alumni have a high success rate; 22% of postdocs and more than 7% of PhDs hold a faculty position. Our analysis shows that 3.5% of those who were postdocs at EPFL between 2016 and 2018 are now professors in Switzerland and 18% are professors abroad.
Our results are consistent with those recently published in two separate reports by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (FSO) and the Swiss Science Council (SSC). Our analysis completes them by highlighting the role of international mobility in academic careers. It will be supplemented by a study of career pathways outside the academic world, which will be the subject of a forthcoming data story.
We collected data on the professional activity of people who started a PhD or postdoc at EPFL between 2010 and 2019 and who were no longer employed (in that same position) by EPFL in March 2023. To this end, each person was searched on the web for public information on their current activity (position, company, responsibilities, location, etc.). Most of the data collected came from the Linkedin profiles of each person, as well as from the yearbooks of the various research institutions. We were able to complete the information for 90% to 95% of people, for different years.
In order to better characterise the distribution of long-term roles and the influence of EPFL on their careers, we have limited the data in this data story to :
Data collection is based on public data, which entails certain restrictions:
Omar Ballester, Tristan Maillard