“I wouldn't miss the PhD experience for anything in the world. I wouldn't be in this role if I hadn't done it. For example, you have to have knowledge of research methodology and be able to interact with researchers.”
Nicole Egli Anthonioz obtained her PhD in forensic science at the School of Criminal Sciences of the Faculty of Law, Criminal Sciences and Public Administration of UNIL in 2009. Since 2016, she is Scientific Assistant at the Cantonal Commission for Ethics in Research on Human Beings (CER-VD).
Thesis title: Interpretation of Partial Fingermarks Using an Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
NEA: I work in the evaluation of medical research protocols as a scientific assistant at the Cantonal Commission for Ethics in Human Research and I have two children.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
I like research. Basically, I like to discover new things. I see value in it. It’s something that is important to me. So it was obvious to undertake a PhD and to want to do stuff related to research. I’d say that this became obvious at the end of high school.
Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
No! Oh no, I was there for fun. But I was going to do everything I could to stay in research.
How did you envision your professional future during your PhD?
It wasn't very clear at the time. When I was a doctoral student, the paths that existed weren't as clear and traced out as they are today. In my field, there were quite a lot of potential paths, and I envisioned a future of opportunities and openings - and that's what really happened. It was clear to me that I was going to go abroad at some point, but I didn't yet know what form it would take.
You are a scientific assistant at the Cantonal Commission for Ethics in Human Research. On the day of your defense, would you have imagined holding this position today?
No, not at all! On the day of my defense, I already had a temporary post as lecturer, and it was planned that I would later become an assistant lecturer. I was on a pretty royal road; it was quite glorious to have no cares for another five years. So at my defense, I was looking forward to it.
What are your main missions and how would you describe your role?
My main mission is to prepare the meetings of the Commission. For example, I read the protocols and information forms, I check that they comply with the law and, within the limits of my competence, I check the coherence between the different elements, for example that the contra-indications of the drugs comply with the criteria for study exclusion. There are a lot of very thorough checks, given that medical competence is the responsibility of the Commission.
What do you like most about this position?
There’s so much! You can see very well what is being done in medical research, which is fascinating. There are the interactions with the members of the Commission and with the researchers, which are extremely interesting and enjoyable. There is also my role in supporting the researchers.
What are the essential skills to carry out this mission?
You have to be thorough, curious and quite versatile.
Tell us about the path that led you to your current position
Two years before finishing my thesis, I went to England to work in private forensic science research in a laboratory. When I returned, I did research in criminology - the social science of crime - in the field of juvenile delinquency. Then I defended my thesis and went back to forensic science as a lecturer for six years. After this position, I went to the University of Neuchâtel for two years to do a post-doctorate at the western Swiss center for research in criminology. I really enjoyed this work. Then the question arose as to what I was going to do. I had two small children at that time and I had had quite a few fixed-term contracts. There were potential opportunities abroad, but as a family we took the decision not to leave. During my last year of post-doctoral studies, I applied in many organisations that interested me, and for permanent positions that essentially called upon my transversal skills. I applied for my current position because of its link with research and my curiosity for novelty.
How do you respond to those who feel that the PhD is not relevant to a non-academic career?
I think a PhD is always relevant! It's true that it's not necessarily the shortest route to anything. You don't have to do a PhD as a way to finish your time at university. Maybe you can do it later. But I'm not sure that a PhD is necessarily required to move your career forward, unless it's to advance in a research, science or university career. As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn't have missed that experience for anything in the world. I wouldn't be in this role if I hadn't done it. For example, you have to have knowledge of research methodology and be able to interact with researchers.
What advice would you give to a PhD or post-doc preparing for the next stage of their career?
To have a good conversation with people who know how things are going today. Don't just talk to your thesis supervisor: speak with recent PhD graduates or people who have had a very straightforward career. You can draw inspiration from their career path without doing exactly the same thing.
Published on 26 April 2021