Work in a company: why it is worth to have a PhD degree

Hello friends of Methods&Strategies podcast! New episode, new interview in collaboration with the Marie Curie Alumni Association! 🙂 

Guest of today is Layla Filiciotto, Marie Curie researcher. Layla is a young and brilliant scientist that has an industrial chemistry background aiming to work in related company. Despite that, she decided to do a PhD after the Master Thesis. Why? It makes sense to have a PhD degree to find work in a company? 

Layla answers to those questions and shares with enthusiasm her experience as a PhD student under Marie Curie Training.

Listen to the episode!


Following a short written version of the interview:

Could you please describe us the topic of your research?

If I have to say it “my easy way” would be by-products application development of bio-based processes, but that doesn’t mean anything, does it?! In reality, nowadays us chemists are trying to make the processes more sustainable not only for energy but also for everyday products like plastics….

You studied industrial chemistry, which is an applied science. Instead to look for a job in industry after your master,  you decided to do a PhD: why?

Even though I had studied industrial chemistry, I still didn’t have any real industrial experience which may make a company a bit more reluctant in hiring you there, especially if then you need to relocate from a tiny town in Sicily and you’re looking for jobs outside Italy..I realised I needed to bridge the gap and when I was offered a PhD with the industrial experience I thought it was a dream! 

You are part of Marie Curie training, could you explain to the listener what Marie Curie training is offering to the PhD student?

With my project, the partners were obliged to give industrial training to all PhD students by literally making them spend at least 50% of their time in a company, in our case Avantium in the Netherlands – a chemical technology development company, and every 6 months we would have meetings combined with training schools organised by each of the partners in their field of expertise, in our case polymers, safety, catalysis, but also intellectual property, entrepreneurial and techno economic assessment, evaluation of innovation and much more! The beauty of a Marie Curie project is also that we have quite a budget to attend conferences, which train you in presentation, networking and many scientific skills, but I also had the chance to participate to courses on the peer review system and speaking to the public but also to policymakers, so that the new world policies are made based on scientific evidence and true facts, because unfortunately we face a lot of misinformation with the advent of social media and overall the internet.

Which are the main skills that you acquired during your PhD? Why are they important in a industrial working environment?

I could start listing an incredible range of skills, including of course research, communication both oral and written, but also marketing, organisational, collaborative, mentoring and safety in and out of the setting that I was in, being academic of industrial. In the end, being in an industrial working environment means taking care of your task or project, but without forgetting the well-being of your colleagues as you are part of a community working towards the goals and strategies that the company has set. Yes, you are an individual but your success is a company success, and your colleague’s the same. So, the more you learn and grow in a wide range of skills the more you can contribute to what is the company goal. And in the end, every company wants an individual that can represent them properly and breathes the values that they want to portray.

You have study and working experience abroad. At young age you leaved for 1 year in USA. How was this experience? Could you tell us something more?

Oh, it was nervewracking! It was such a beautiful rollercoaster of emotions that I will never forget. When I had to leave, I was saying goodbye to my friends and family but with the promise of seeing them again in one year, without the realisation of how things change in one year and how much such an experience changes YOU. But I was so excited to see a new place, although I tried to get to New York, but the host family that had chosen me was from Indiana, a state in the midwest which I feared I would live in the middle of hamish farms with no contacts with the outside world. I was in the middle of hamish farms, but in a city and in a great host family which I deeply love to this date as they truly became my family for my time there. It was a bit difficult at the beginning, I had studied English…..

Was this experience useful for your career? Why?

I never really realised how useful this career was for my career as it was just a separate “brackets” during my high school career, then it was the university, then the masters, then the PhD, and it felt like I never stopped and really appreciate the experience itself, but rather have immense gratitude for the host family there in the US. But what I recently started realising, it’s that it was an experience that taught me how to accept change and how to adapt to a new and different experience, deal with a new culture…like I will never forget the first times that I was crossing with people in the hallway and they would say “Hey how are you?” and I would start replying “Yeah,I’m fine, what about you?” realising later that they really don’t care about the answer but it was just a cultural thing…so that it taught me how to recognise different social clues from cultures I don’t know (I also quickly stopped gesticulating a lot like Italians typically do!!) 

Would you like to stay in research? Why?

Three years of PhD and I realised that, yes I love research, but I would rather support it rather than being the one carrying it out. I always heard in these years that I was selling more than being focused on the details, which I realised I don’t have patience for! I like trends, differences, but especially in the context of a bigger picture, of why we need to do something in a world context. For doing good research you need to specialise in one field and I feel you have only a scientific impact, whereas I want to have an impact on the society and environment we live in, and in a society based on money, it’s the business side that controls how we do things!

Scientist and public engagement: in one of your blog post in the Marie Curie platform you wrote “ Science is there to help. Now it’s time for scientists to learn how to let everybody know” According to you, why science and public look far from each other?

We do speak different languages. When you study in a scientific field, you learn certain terms that you use normally to describe certain scientific things, and especially when you do a PhD, you start using those words in your everyday life!! Maybe at times we want to sound smarter so that we use certain terms, and there’s always been that conception from the public that scientists are obscure nerds in an inaccessible world. Shows like Big Bang Theory actually helped to break that wall and now we have to make that extra effort to fully make understand the world that science is there to benefit all, to help, to evolve, to improve the life conditions. Some may argue that a phone may have ruined people (if you look at the millenials nowadays…), but how many times a simple phone call to the emergency has saved a life? And many more examples like this

Projects for the future? Are you going back to Italy? New adventures to another country?

Ah, Italy is a dream for retirement maybe, I don’t see myself going back there even with the 70% tax relief they are planning for those that escaped years ago. I am looking at staying within Europe, not only because it’s easier for visa requirements, but also because especially in centre-northern Europe, there is an incredible advancement in innovative and sustainable chemical practices which I am very excited about. I loved living in the Netherlands for both culture and style of living, but I am not excluding some other countries as I more driven by the type of opportunity rather than the country itself. Especially, I want a country where I can learn a new language, so that Spain, UK and Italy are a bit excluded, but then in life you’ll never know!

Did you liked the discussion with Layla?Are you looking for suggestions or ideas coming directly from scientists? Stay in contact with us through the Methods&Strategie Facebook group

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