In early October, we met Olivier Denis and Bernard Revaz, respectively Head of Sales & Marketing and CEO of a Swiss based company specialised in security technologies.
While Olivier is a CERN Alumnus, who worked as project engineer at CERN from 2003 to 2008 , Bernard holds a PhD from Geneva University in Physics and a Master’s degree from Lausanne University in Science Policy.
Initially we met to discuss career opportunities for CERN Alumni, and found the exchange so valuable and enriching that we wanted to share it with you, the members of the network.
OAR(Office of Alumni Relations):
“Much of our effort is dedicated to achieving the first objective set by the Director-General, which is to help young physicist in their first career move after CERN. For this, we have a three-pronged approach; firstly, we organise thematic seminars where alumni who have been successful in their move out of academia share their experience and knowledge with members of the network. Secondly, we encourage network members and recruiters to post career opportunities that specifically target the skills and profiles developed at CERN. Thirdly we publish articles on the various and diverse trajectories taken by alumni after they leave CERN giving members of the network concrete examples of possible career options”.
BR (Bernard Revaz):
“Being a physicist myself, I am very much aware of the difficulties one potentially encounters when leaving academia. One such issue is related to age, after doing a PhD and a couple of Post docs, it can be increasingly difficult to find a job within a company. There are several reasons for this. One is the difficulty for a company’s HR people to formulate a standard career plan for such profiles. In addition, companies do not always know how to manage potential recruits that start their first job after 35 years of age, as they might have concerns that they might not be able to train them to their practices and culture.
However, in my view, if a company succeeds in creating the appropriate environment for these profiles, the age of the recruits can potentially be a great asset. It can be possible to take this risk for some companies, if you have an understanding of the environment in which these people have evolved, if you understand how they function and if you know how to create value from their profiles, experience and knowledge. I strongly believe in this and have made it one of the pillars of my business model.”
“With the two seminars we have organised, and because we seize every opportunity to discuss our young physicists alumni career moves, we see that little in their education, studies and work experience prepares them for a move outside of academia. There might also be a strong belief on their part that physicists are able to tackle any kind of job after physics”.
“Indeed, physicists often view themselves, and are told, that they are generalists. This might have been true in the past, for example when only physicists would work with computing in big data. However, this is no longer the case. Students have now access to complete cursus in STEM, which are very much sought after by companies, so the competition is much higher today! In addition, the work environments, in the fields where physicists traditionally would move to, have undergone major changes. For example, physicists are taught to apply extreme rigour when programming. Well, the standards have changed and the quasi unlimited computing resources have had a strong impact on the programming job, rigor no longer has the same value”.
“So what is your company’s business model why do you think CERN talents fit so well with it?”
“We are transforming the demands of our clients from design all the way to the production of a limited series, proving that the concepts work. We do not industrialise but we are beyond simple prototyping. Our e-shelves are full or projects for clients worldwide but we have difficulties finding the competences. We found in Olivier the competences that we were looking for and I am convinced that CERN trains a pool of much needed talent.“
“Our company, which specialises in sophisticated instrumentation projects, covers these projects vertically, from the sensors to the programmable user interface which exploits the data transmitted by sensors. Our collaborators, engineers or applied physicists, deploy skills from low-level electronics to the development of software layers. We need people who have hands-on experience in all aspects of smaller scale projects, from the capture by sensors of analogue signals to sophisticated software programming. The integration of all the components are realised by small project teams”.
“and, in your view, CERN has a pool of such talent and profiles? ”
“Definitely, such transversal project experience and skills may be found in smaller projects at CERN. For physicists or engineers who have worked on greater scale projects, there is a risk that they have become highly specialised in one particular area and may not have had access to the global view of these huge projects. We are also not dealing with huge amounts of data, so experience on large-scale database e.g. for the purpose of simulation is not very relevant for us. Also, computing trained professionals may not have the competences to develop software with the constraints imposed by instrumentation, such as handling data directly provided by instruments”
“So, how can industry find the rare pearls that they need”
“Industries who manage to stay in contact with professors and/or supervisors in places renowned for excellence, such as the EPFL or CERN, maintain an edge for recruitment because these contacts are in a position to recommend talented people precisely at the stage when they become available”.
“Experienced profiles of people over 35 or even 40 are a gold mine. Companies do not wish to recruit these profiles themselves because they may only need them temporarily, to work on the most delicate phases of projects. However, consultancy companies are ready to step-in and play the intermediary. Some major companies, notably in the US, undergo restructuring. They will leave many employees without a job, but consulting companies have started to recruit them, as soon as they start pre-retirement, knowing that a lot of money can be made from these competencies. “
“Today we also find programmes that are supported by governments to make public labs and industry work closely together. This is the case for example of Innosuisse. More than the actual technical results of the projects that are financed, the real advantage for companies is to benefit from the technology performed by the labs and to be in close contact with the highest competences in the field. “
“How do you think the CERN Alumni programme can assist alumni in finding their next career opportunity?”
“CERN is a huge reservoir of skills and talents, beyond CERN, CERN Alumni may also reach out to the institute members of the scientific collaborations, where sub systems of complex detectors are designed and produced. One of the best ways for this Organization to help their alumni in the search for their next job is to extend the exposure to potential recruiters, all over the world. “
“We fully agree, which is why we featured Olivier Denis and the technology your company has developed for airport security in one of our Spotlights on CERN Alumni. We also invite you, as potential recruiters to post your career opportunities on alumni.cern, and we will be pleased to advertise to targeted audiences in our network. Our next event “Moving out of Academia to Mechanical or Industrial engineering“ will take place on 8 February 2019 and we hope to welcome you back as participants.”.