Publish at February 15 2022 Updated February 24 2022

A doctorate? What's next? [Thesis]

Professionalization of the doctorate to improve the employability and transition of young doctors.

Illustration inspired by the cover of the novel "The Galactic Traveler's Guide" showing a hand holding a doctoral degree with the words "Don't panic".

If I were a young man again and had to decide how to make a living, I would not try to become a scholar, researcher, or teacher. Instead, I would choose to become a plumber or a peddler, in order to find that modest bit of independence that one can still enjoy under the present circumstances.

Albert Einstein - Theoretical Physicist and Repressed Plumber (1879-1955)

The doctorate is an internationally recognized degree of excellence usually prepared after a research master's degree over a period of three years or more. It is the highest academic degree. A PhD can be completed within a university, a specialized school or even a partnership with a private company.

Since the Licence-Master-Doctorat (LMD) reform, the PhD is the only postgraduate degree whose program and title are set by each university. As such, the experience of a PhD can change drastically due to many factors such as the discipline, the research topic, but also the institution and the supervisors of the candidates.

During a doctorate, the doctoral student's original research work crystallizes in the form of a final manuscript: the dissertation, followed by a public presentation: the defense, which can lead to a national doctoral degree. This work may also be published as peer-reviewed articles in specialized academic journals.

What's next?

Getting a doctorate offers many outlets specific to each field or modality related to the thesis. Thus, the young doctor can move towards a career in the academic, industrial or other world.

However, this degree of excellence is most often associated with professional uncertainty. Indeed, permanent employment opportunities in public research are dwindling due to budget cuts while the number of candidates is increasing making the competition between candidates explode. This situation leads to a casualization of research jobs in the form of Fixed Term Contracts (FTC) on the "project-based research" model.

The dream of a job for life in public research professions seems to be eroding with time, pushing institutions, doctoral programs as well as PhDs to reinvent themselves professionally to adapt to the competitiveness of the market and allow their professional insertion.

Why the doctorate? Why integrate PhDs into companies? What are the brakes and levers of the professionalization of the doctorate? This is what Julien Calmand proposes to explore in his thesis entitled "The professionalization of the doctorate: towards a segmentation of doctoral training and doctoral paths?".

Why read this thesis

Julien Calmand through his style and the clear development of his thought offers the reader an enjoyable thesis to read. All of the topics discussed, especially the precariousness of jobs in public research, are current issues for many PhDs around the world, making the author's conclusions and proposals relevant. The use of Bourdieusian concepts to study academia and doctoral training results in a captivating piece of sociology research for anyone who loves Bourdieu.


"For more than fifty years, the access of PhDs to permanent jobs in public research (university and public research establishments) has remained uncertain in the first years after the thesis, whether in France or abroad. This uncertainty is a fact inherent to the operation of recruitment to permanent jobs in public research, which occupy an important part in the outlets of PhDs.

In these careers, spots are scarce, the number of applicants is high, and competition is fierce. The queue for stabilization has also grown longer over time. Since the crisis of 1968, tensions have regularly crossed the academic world: the question of employment status and the activities of the various actors are at the center of the conflicts. However, the systemic functioning of careers alone does not explain the growing precariousness of public research jobs.

New ways of experimenting with research and new innovation processes have been imposed in public research laboratories. Project-based research" is based on a strong division of labor within research centers, where it relies on a flexible workforce, favoring the employment of doctors on fixed-term contracts. In France, other more cyclical movements can also explain the precariousness of PhDs at the beginning of their careers. Thus, under the effects of the budget reduction policies undertaken by the State for many years, the standard of statutory employment is being eroded in the civil service: the share of permanent public jobs is decreasing in favor of fixed-term contract jobs (CDD) to the point of calling into question the idea of "employment for life" in the research professions.
The chronic instability and the weak integration of PhDs in companies influence the representations of the transition from thesis to employment and question the "profitability" of the PhD on the labor market. These two dimensions are at the heart of most social science research on the professional future of PhDs, whether in France or abroad.
We defend here the idea that the chaotic beginnings of doctoral graduates' careers and their chronic instability in public research, associated with their poor integration into companies, are at the origin of structural reforms of doctoral training starting in the mid-2000s, in a context of mass youth unemployment. We summarize all of these reforms by the term "professionalization" of doctoral training, of the doctorate and of doctors, which constitutes the central object of the thesis.

The process of professionalization of doctoral training is part of the older process of professionalization of higher education since 2007 and the implementation of the Law on the Freedoms and Responsibilities of Universities (LRU). In a double movement, both exclusive and inclusive, the process of professionalization of the doctorate is based on the development, within the educational system, of so-called general training courses opposed to so-called professionalizing training courses. If the movement of professionalization of higher education training has been widely analyzed by social science research, the objectives, movements and consequences of professionalization in higher education have been little studied as far as doctoral training is concerned.
It is both the effects of the professionalization of higher education training on the academic and professional paths of young people that will be studied. In this field, abundant publications have contributed for thirty years to spread the idea that the professional future of PhDs would be more "difficult" than that of other higher education graduates, justifying in part the reforms in favor of the professionalization of the PhD.

Legitimized by statistical data, these publications do not, however, describe precisely how the professional transition takes place once the doctoral degree is obtained. We therefore propose to rethink the process of transition from thesis to employment by relying on both sociological materials and new statistical surveys.

Interrogating the effects of the professionalization of the doctorate finally leads us to discuss the controversy over the status of PhDs. One of the principles of the professionalization of doctoral training, which considers the thesis as a work experience and doctoral students as professionals in a work situation, comes up against the diversity of the conditions under which the thesis is carried out, with some doctoral students, for example, considering themselves as students. Also, it is difficult to decide on the status of the transition from thesis to employment: professional insertion or career continuation?"

Main results

Julien Calmand's work seems to show that the process of professionalization of the doctorate aimed at improving the future of doctors and promoting their integration into companies remains unfinished.

Among the many results collected, some seem to indicate a change in the career choices of young PhDs with an increase in careers outside of public research as well as an increase in PhDs employed in the private sector. This correlation seems to indicate an improvement in the match between the professional project at the end of the thesis and the professional fate of the subjects studied.

Moreover, the research conducted by Julien Calmand highlights that the resources put in place in the professionalization of the doctorate remain scarce and unevenly distributed that can give rise to inequalities in the capital acquired during the doctorate, limiting some doctors on the labor market such as those apartment to disciplines without links to the economic field.


This thesis allows us to discover, observe and consider the evolution of the devices put in place in order to allow the adaptation of the doctorate to the hypercompetitiveness of the working world.

Don't panic! All is not so bleak. Julien Calmand proposes a form of numerus clausus offering a better regulation of doctoral entries adapted to the needs of management in universities and permanent positions. On the one hand, this would allow the doctorate to become the first grade in the corps of teacher-researchers by guaranteeing stability at the beginning of the career. And on the other hand, the competitive selection method would reduce the arbitrary factors punctuating doctoral careers.

For the author, such a system would allow the implementation of a pedagogy adapted to long-term higher education, associated with the transmission of a professional culture while authorizing the mobility of PhDs to the private sector.

What about you? If you had to do it or do it again, would you be a doctor or a plumber?

Good reading!

Thesis defended on December 15, 2020. Work carried out at the University of Burgundy Franche-Comté at the IREDU (Institute of Research on Education: Sociology and Economics of Education) within the doctoral school ED SEPT (Societies, Spaces, Practices, Time) : ED 594 (University of Burgundy Franche-Comté) (Dijon - France).



Julien Calmand. The professionalization of the doctorate: towards a segmentation of doctoral training and doctoral paths? Education. University of Burgundy Franche-Comté, 2020. French. ⟨NNT: 2020UBFCH027⟩. ⟨tel-03202061⟩




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