Paola Rattu

Paola Rattu

“During my PhD, I sought out involvement in teaching, both out of interest and to have a way out once my thesis was finished.”

Paola Rattu
obtained her PhD in Geography at the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment (FGSE) of UNIL in 2015. She has been working for the Swiss Confederation since 2020 as head of digital education at the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) and has created her own educational consulting company, Rattu Consulting. 

Thesis title (our translation): The Power of Water. A Foucauldian geo-history of urban water in Switzerland from 1850 to today.

GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
PR: I did my PhD in Geography at UNIL from 2010 to 2015. After obtaining my PhD, I worked for nine months as a pedagogical engineer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (SSP) of UNIL, then I joined the private sector. I am currently responsible for digital training at the Federal Office of Police (fedpol). 

Why did you choose to do a doctorate?
Because of the very challenging subject matter and because the PhD was a continuation of my career path. When I started my doctoral thesis as an assistant, I planned to work on a topic related to a research area I had studied during my Master's degree. 

Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
During my thesis, I was worried about my professional future. I found it complicated to envisage what to do next, given that post-doc positions are short-term contracts and that there are few of them in Switzerland. I was almost thirty years old at the end of my doctorate. I wondered if I really wanted to continue to evolve in the academic world in a precarious position for a number of years. My career plan was to give myself the freedom to choose what I wanted to do after the doctorate. In order to diversify the possible professional options after the thesis, I decided to undertake a Masters in learning and training technologies at the University of Geneva, in parallel with my PhD. I completed this training one year before obtaining my PhD. At the end of my thesis, I was thus able to choose to continue the academic path in geography or to embark on an extra-academic career in the field of educational technologies. I went for the latteroption. 

You are head of digital training at the Federal Office of Police. On the day of your defense, would you have imagined holding this position today?
No, not at all. I knew that I was going to start a position at UNIL in the field of educational technology a few days after my defense, but I had no idea how my career would evolve.

What are your main missions and how would you describe your role?
At fedpol, I am in charge of setting up a center of competence in digital training. In this role, I have to build digital training courses, such as e-learning modules, manage the different stages of projects and train employees in digital training. Alongside this role, I have developed my own consulting company. I offer support to companies in the creation and deployment of their training, including digital training (for example for new product launches or for human resources). 

What do you like the most in your job as a digital training expert?
What I like is the fact that I work with very different themes, help specialists share their knowledge and deliver a good learning experience to participants. I also like the creative aspect, the project management, and team management. 

What are the essential skills for this job?
Being open to a wide variety of subjects and being able to understand them quickly, knowing how to prioritize, beingcreative and being open to change. A structured approach and a certain sense of aesthetics are also important.

Tell us about the path that led you to your current position
After completing my PhD, I held the position of Pedagogical Engineer at UNIL. I had experience in the field of learning technologies: I had been an e-learning consultant for the college in children’s education (esede) and I had also developed two projects supported by UNIL's Pedagogical Innovation Fund (FIP) during my assistantship. One of the projects consisted in providing teaching sheets for the students of a Master's degree in Geography, allowing them to acquire basic knowledge in social sciences. During my PhD, I sought out involvement in teaching, both out of interest and to have a way out once the thesis was finished. 

The position at UNIL was interesting, but I quickly needed a new challenge. In 2016, I was hired by Phonak, a company that produces hearing aids, again as an educational engineer. I liked this job: I had the opportunity to build my first digital training courses for internal and especially external use, to work closely with business experts from a wide range of fields, to have contact with different markets and to work in a company with an international presence. After about a year, I was given additional responsibilities and was able to have my own team. After almost four years in this company, I wanted a new experience and so I applied for a job at fedpol. 

How do you respond to those who feel that a PhD is not relevant for a non-academic career?
I do not agree. During the PhD you acquire many skills that are valuable outside the academic world, such as knowing how to do research efficiently, how to process and structure information, how to communicate your results to an expert or non-expert audience, and how to develop a structure of thought. During the time you’re a doctoral candidate, you may not necessarily be aware of the skills you are developing. 

What advice would you give to a PhD or postdoc preparing for the next stage of his or her career?
The doctorate allows you to acquire a variety of skills. That said, it is important to keep in mind that the doctorate is not the end of the learning chapter. It’s important to continue to learn and train throughout your career, for example through internships and additional training during and after the doctorate. For my part, I am currently completing an MBA at Kennesaw State University, which broadens the range of tools and skills I can use on a daily basis, especially in supporting my private sector clients. 

Published on 15 March 2021

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