“During the first year of your doctorate, you soon realise whether you want to pursue an academic career or not. Depending on this decision, you need to prepare yourself by orienting your tasks and the development of your skills towards one or the other career.”
Raphaël Zumofen obtained his doctorate in public administration with the IDHEAP (Institute of Public Administration) in the Faculty of Law, Criminal Science and Public Administration at UNIL in 2016. He is currently Deputy (“adjoint”) and a member of the management team at the University of Applied Sciences in Health in Sion (Haute Ecole de Santé, HES-SO Valais-Wallis)
Thesis title (our translation): The impact of public accountability on organisational performance: measures for the employment market in the cantons of Fribourg and Vaud.
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
RZ: I did my thesis in public administration with Professor Martial Pasquier at the Institute of Public Administration (IDHEAP) at UNIL. After obtaining my doctorate in 2016, I was Assistant to the Rector of UNIL, Nouria Hernandez. Since March 2020 I am Deputy and member of the management team of the Haute Ecole de Santé of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis in Sion.
Why did you decide to do a doctorate?
I have always seen the doctorate as a conclusion of studies, even if it’s wrong to see it that way. On the one hand, I wanted to go to the end of what is possible in terms of degrees, and on the other hand, I was also very keen to develop the skills acquired during the doctorate, such as scientific rigour, mastery of different research methodologies, and precision. It was important for me to be able to develop these skills and that was part of the choice when I chose to do a PhD.
You’re now Deputy and member of the management team at the HES Santé in Valais. The day of your defence, would you have imagined being in this position today?
No! On the day of my defence, my career choice was not yet very clear. The desire to pursue research was not a clear objective, but I left the door open to the possibility if an offer presented itself. After obtaining my doctorate, I had the opportunity to assist the Rector during the beginning of her mandate. Once I began in this role, I realised that the academic world was going to be more distant, but that wasn’t too serious because I really liked this position in the administrative world of universities. As time went on, I realised that this is an interesting field to be in and that career opportunities were going to present themselves.
What are your main tasks and how would you describe your role?
I’m mainly in charge of implementing the strategic plan for the UAS Health. I coordinate the projects related to the strategic directions that have been chosen for the UAS and I contribute to the implementation of these projects, especially with regard to institutional policy.
In parallel, I have a major dossier: the construction of the new Health Campus which will be set up near the hospital in Sion and in which the UAS Health will be one of the partners (with, notably, the EPFL, the Valaisan Health Observatory and the UAS for Social Work).
These are really my two main task groups. I also participate in all the meetings of the management board and in all the important reflections for the UAS Health.
What do you enjoy in your role?
I’d say that I really appreciate the fact I stayed in the world of higher education because it’s a very stimulating place. On the one hand, it interests me enormously and, on the other, there are all the decisions on the UAS’ axes of priorities that are discussed by the management board, whether for institutional policy, research or teaching. There are debates and interesting ideas which are then very quickly translated into projects. Once decisions have been taken by the management board, they move rapidly to the operational level. It’s also interesting to see projects transform and be implemented very quickly.
What skills are essential for your role?
There are many skills that I developed during my PhD that can be very useful today, including being precise and having a lot of rigour in the way you do your work. I believe that these skills are really important in the work I do today.
There’s also perhaps the idea of dealing with problems in a global way, of seeing them in an interdisciplinary light – seeing all the possibilities and all the risks and challenges lying around the same problem.
Then, I think there are more traditional abilities and qualities, such as writing skills, conceptualization, or methodological skills that you acquire at the PhD level.
During your doctorate, did you prepare yourself for the job market?
Yes. During my doctorate, I always kept a close eye on the job market, also because I was interested in seeing what type of positions were available, what skills were valued, and what profiles were currently in demand on the job market. I realized fairly quickly during my PhD that I probably wouldn’t have an academic career. I never ruled out the idea of continuing to do research – and I still do a bit of it – but I didn’t see myself having an academic career as such.
So I very quickly started looking at what kind of position I could apply for. I kept a close eye on that, also to try to develop the necessary skills. And in whatever was a little flexible in my PhD, especially when it came to my assistantship, I tried to move towards tasks that could be useful in the job market and in the types of jobs that interested me.
What would you say to someone who considers that the doctorate isn’t relevant for a career beyond academia?
I’d recommend they hire a PhD!
I think there are very specific qualities and skills that are developed during the doctorate that are probably difficult, if not impossible, to develop elsewhere. If these skills are useful in a company, they will be key. In my opinion, it’s wrong to think that these skills are useless. They are certainly specific and particular skills, but they are very useful in certain sectors. Of course, there are areas of the economy in which it’s perhaps less important to develop the skills that one acquires during a doctorate. But for my part, I think I have developed unique skills that are valuable on the job market, and I’m quite convinced of their value.
What advice would you give to a doctoral candidate or a postdoc who’s preparing the next stage of their career?
I’d probably advise them to reflect well in advance on what they’d like to do. If you’re heading for an academic career, then you need to take this choice into account from the beginning of the doctorate. In my opinion, the first steps towards an academic career need to be taken very early. Whereas if you’re moving towards a career outside academia, then you have the luxury of a little more time to reflect and ask yourself questions.
I think the most important thing is really to choose one or the other path fairly quickly. During the first year of your doctorate, you soon realize whether you want to pursue an academic career or not. Depending on this decision, you need to prepare yourself by orienting your tasks and the development of your skills towards one or the other career. If the choice is for an academic career, it’s probably necessary to move towards slightly more scientific production than if you decide to leave the academic path.
Published on 7 December 2020