The following section is adapted from the EPFL Career Center’s presentation to incoming PhD students.
As a career center, we consider you not as students, but as young professionals—whether you stay in academia or move into a public or private sector role afterwards makes no difference. To help you focus during this time as PhD, we suggest the following priorities, which you can easily remember with the acronym, “INSERT:”
Integrate: learn the local language (French) and don’t let anyone dissuade you. EPFL even offers you free courses, though if you had to pay for them, it would still be worth it. This will allow you to meet non-English speaking early career researchers, undergrads and faculty, and to participate in the wider campus and community life, from sports to volunteer work, skiing to theater. It will be a huge plus for industry collaborations, externships and jobs upon graduation. Join PolyDoc and at least one other student or professional association where you will be able to speak French in a non-stressful setting.
Network: always do this like you mean it, from speaking to the concierge in your building to welcoming a visiting professor from abroad. Very few people feel comfortable in the beginning, and much less so when they are already under pressure to find a job, so do this early and often. Practice sports with at least some people not from your home culture, and consider joining Toastmaster’s or Junior Enterprise. Go to the free apero’s at the Innovation Park on Tuesdays at the Puur Cafe, and to events which integrate both academia and industry: there are dozens of these on campus each year.
Share: commit to teaching younger students, take advantage of the CAPE courses and teach both general and technical courses. You will be the big winner, since science communication, the art of explaining complex ideas in comprehensible ways, is a high-value job skill needed almost everywhere. Volunteer at open house and Scientastic events for the general public and future students.
Enthuse: learn about the actors in your field, not just the big names but those leading the way towards where you see yourself in five years. How many are in primary or applied research? How many have transferred their skills into policy-making, consulting, teaching, launched a startup or work in business? Sign up for the e-newsletter (“Memento”) on our website, and start attending company presentations, round tables and workshops. Attend the Forum, the largest on-campus job fair in the region for 37 years.
Reconnoiter: find out how the industry job market works; sign up for the special Staff Training Service course available only to scientific staff, “Tackling the job market successfully,” which is offered 10 times per year (half each in FR and EN).
Tailor your tools: learn how to make your CV and LinkedIn profile work for you, prepare for typical interview questions and the tough job of…your post-EPFL job search!