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  • Writer's pictureHugo Hellard

Strategy consulting after a PhD


A few months ago, Hugo joined Gjoa after graduating in engineering and a PhD in astrophysics. He tells us about his vision of the bridges between thesis and consultancy, and his choice to go into strategy consulting.


Why chose strategy consulting after investigating exoplanets?

In one sentence: to accompany companies on a range of issues while keeping the spirit of structured analysis that I learned during my PhD. Two notable wishes made me decide:

  • To work on a wide variety of cases and more operational issues compared to hot Jupiter deformations study.

  • To reduce the time of the cases I work on. Astrophysics research projects take years or even decades to complete. A relatively simple market research case can sometimes be completed in a week.

What is the most striking difference between academic research and strategy consulting?

The rhythm of the deadlines, which is linked to the duration of the cases I mentioned before. Having a goal six months or a year away is not the same as having to meet a deadline in two hours. However, the structure and organization that the PhD provides allow you to adapt to this change in the pace of work. The doctorate is long term intense where consulting is short term intense.


Is it easier to measure the deformations of an exoplanet or to understand a company strategy?

The secret lies in the amount of information available, which is obviously more important for a company: its history (!), its current situation (finance, organisation), its market and competition, etc. However, the shape of a planet responds to well-defined laws, whereas the evolution of markets, and therefore of companies, is difficult to frame with equations.


Was there anything that surprised you in your first months as a consultant?

The form of the presentation slides! After years of producing presentations, I thought I would be comfortable with this aspect of the consultancy role, seeing the challenge of the hindsight required to bring strategic value to the reflection. But communicating between scientists is not the same as communicating with a client!

 

Understanding the interior of the planets is like holding a peach in your hand


Unlike a company, we have no written or visual record of the evolution of a planet. And yet, it contains valuable information: how does it become, or not, habitable?


A peach that arrives in a container from the other side of the world will surely be firmer than one that is picked up at the local farmer. On the one hand, the firmness of the peach - its deformations - tells us about its internal structure, and on the other hand, its internal structure tells us about its journey - its evolution.


The same idea can be applied to planets to understand their evolution: deduce their structure by their surface deformations. For this we can measure[i] the romantic numbers of Love, specific to each planet, defined by the mathematician Augustus Love[ii] a century ago.


 

Bridges of competencies that exist!


Since 2015[iii], the company has been the leading doctor’s outlet in France. In Anglo-Saxon and Germanic countries, especially in Germany, the doctorate remains the reference diploma offering many prestigious professional opportunities.


In France, the reality is different for a simple reason: the French specificity of engineering schools, initially created for the economic and industrial needs of the country. University degrees have retained a more intellectual than applied status. Consulting firms have therefore historically recruited graduates from business and engineering schools, which are both elitist and business work-oriented, allowing direct access to the business world, often in management positions.


So today in France, few PhDs are retained by consulting firms, unlike in Germany or England. And yet, there are key skills acquired during the doctorate that are at the heart of the consulting profession :

  1. Data search: literature review to find relevant information, scientific journals to keep abreast of the latest advances and publications, and upcoming conferences

  2. Structured analysis: rigour and perseverance are the key words in the methodological approach of a scientific project, which must be logical and structured

  3. Synthesis: summarising the research work in a concise and clear deliverable, the scientific article, validated by the scientific community before publication

  4. Communication: presentation of results at international conferences or team meetings, as well as at scientific popularisation events

  5. Project management: management of the PhD project from start to finish over several years (definition of objectives, phases and milestones, project follow-up, etc.)


The doctor is therefore not - or no longer - a theoretical scientist working at night in the back of her or laboratory, in a white coat. The doctor is a person evolving in a multicultural and international environment, where analytical rigour and communication skills are key to succeed in an ultra-competitive environment.

 

[i] HST/STIS Capability for Love Number Measurement of WASP-121b, ApJ 2020

[ii] Augustus Edward Hough Love, Wikipedia

[iii] Doctoral students: why not go private after the thesis? Les Echos, January 2021



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