To Govind: is a happy PhD possible?

When I told a friend that I was going to do a PhD, his response was: why? Can’t you find a real job?

From the perspective of a graduate from an elite engineering school, doing a PhD means seeing a salary cut by two third or even half compared to an engineer job (on average). Normally in Western countries, especially in France, an engineering job is a permanent job, while a PhD contract limit only in a few years. The worst part is after these few years, another job hunting procedure would need to be undertaken, but with lots more disadvantages of being over-qualified or over-specialized. The only reasonable choice seems to follow academic path (which is not true by the way). So is the PhD worth the effort? Can one be happy in such conditions? For me, yes. Almost every minute of almost every day over these 4 years. I am going to explain to you why.

Unlike most of blogs that discuss the subject by well established researchers, this note is written by a freshly graduated mind, with all foggy perspective for the near future. I humbly hope this would bring another story with a different perspective for a very common question. Before grad school, I worked in the research and technical division of a big glass-making company in France, Saint-Gobain. This makes my beginning to be slightly different from most of PhD students.

1. The scientific curiosity:

Curiosity leads to happiness, especially when it is satisfied.

I remember distinctively two moments during my PhD: the first was when we successfully created sub-micron textured fibers using the method we invented in 2015. When we saw those patterns by microscope, I could not help smiling. I was always curious by surface phenomena, and such result proved that I really understood one thing or two.. In addition, the result came from a understanding that we were the first to develop, with the technique that had not been discussed anywhere, and achieved unprecedented resolution. I knew immediately that we were on the front of the field.

The second moment was when I saw those axons growing through a textured hollow-core fiber in 2016, and learned about the guiding effect of our fibers on DRG. This opened my eyes to the field of bio-engineering, about which my ignorance is quite complete. And it seemed to me at this time that the field itself was in its infancy. A lot more to learn, to discover, and to invent.

I strongly believe that the scientific curiosity plays a crucial role in the happiness and well-being of a PhD student. Curiosity does not ensure a happy life, but no curiosity definitely prevents PhD students from enjoying the long years of low-paying and over-loaded work. No other motivation to do PhD, like to impress parents, to get a “Dr.” title, or even to be incapable to find other jobs, would be strong enough to cover the lack of curiosity.

I found myself very lucky to start my PhD with a quite big curiosity, and that my scientific curiosity has kept growing during these years.

2. Soft skills

A side effect of a PhD is developing skills, among which, 4 are crucial in my opinion: to write well, to present well, to organize well, and to supervise well. Coincidentally, there are the skills that I had always wanted to work on. Writing is when you prepare your reports and publications; presenting is for conferences and meetings; organizing is always needed because most of the time, there are too much work; and supervising involves working and teaching fellows that do not a specific knowledge in a specific project. The first three skills are required in any program, so if we have to do it anyway, why not do it well. The supervising skills is more personal, I was even luckier, because I want to teach and to interact with students, and my Professor allowed me to do so.

Developing those skills was sometimes a source of my motivation, especially when the research projects did not go as fast as I wanted to. EPFL provides huge resources to help us to do so.

3. Low expectations on the salary:

The fact that you cannot get rich from your PhD salary is well-known, but there are still too many PhD who are frustrated by their relatively low pay, considering long working hours and highly stressful periods time to time. I believe before doing a PhD, the awareness of such situation is a must, and no one should be surprised by it.

Ismael in Moby-Dick the Whale explained it very well: “though [the salary was low], yet it was better than nothing, and if we had a lucky voyage, might pretty nearly pay for the clothing I would wear out on it, not to speak of my three years’ beef and board, for which I would not have to pay one stiver. It might be thought that this was a poor way to accumulate a princely fortune, and so it was, a very poor way indeed. But I am one of those who never take on about princely fortunes and I am quite content if the world is really to board and lodge me”. After his trip with the Pequod, he could have started a PhD.


To conclude, I have met some students that are truly miserable during their time in grad school. There is even a study showing that there are many more miserable PhD students than happy ones. You might keep this fact in perspective, but also be sure that it is possible to be happy doing a PhD. I humbly consider myself as a living proof if you want, and I have meet quite a lots who are. The best way to prepare for yourself is to discuss with as many people as possible before decide which path is good. In this sense, I hope that this testimony is useful.

How to make your paper attractive

It is said that the people judge a scientific paper by its title, its abstract and its figures. Indeed, if there are no specific interest on author’s name, I would start by looking up on the Internet with some keywords, then select among the search results a number of attractive titles; for each paper, I would read the abstract first, and if it is interesting and related to my work, I will go through the figures and/or jump to conclusion for more detail. Then normally I call it a lecture. No attention is paid to detail if I don’t want to replicate the results presented in the paper.

As a consequence, as author, here are some of my considerations while preparing a paper, listed by their priority.

1st – An attractive title: highlighted keywords and the-most-general-as-possible context.

2st – Abstract: concise and complete, composed by short sentence. Should be mentioned here: the big picture, the most important result should be mentioned, the most promising perspective.

3rd – Figures: I have learn to build a paper around its figures. The figures need to tell the story of the paper by themselves, hence their contain and caption have to be prepared carefully. It is also nice to have an artistic style. Always regroup, because of the limitation by the journals in general, and also for the completeness of the contain, but the legend should by very clear.

4th – Conclusion and Introduction: it can be seen as two faces of the same coin, because normally they have similar structure (context-technique-result). The difference is that in the introduction, one need to emphasize on context, whereas in the conclusion, the results are of most important. One or two sentences about the perspectives are also needed in the conclusion.

5th – Read and read again: if you find your papers interesting, there is a few chance that your readers like it as well, but if you don’t, it is surely sure that no one will ever read it.

Le contraste du Tech

Le contraste du tech

La photo a été prise en 2010 par moi-même lors d’un stage d’étude au Vietnam. Avec cette photo, je tiendrais à faire comprendre le mot « contraste » dans le sens figuratif. La photo montre une femme qui vend des fruits dans la rue, tout en utilisant un smartphone. La barre située devant la femme est un « don ganh », un outil utilisé pour porter les « quang ». Dans l’arrière-plan, on voit bien un distributeur de billets. Les contrastes sont au cœur de cette photo. Le premier, et plus direct, est le contraste entre les outils qu’utilise la dame, la barre de bambou et le téléphone. Le premier est un outil qui est utilisé depuis des générations au Vietnam, tandis que le dernier est une invention du 21ème siècle. Ce premier contraste dévoile le deuxième, un contraste que tous les pays du Sud sont en train d’expérimenter : le contraste entre « l’ombre du passé », avec les moyens de production peu efficaces, basée sur le travail des petits commerçants et paysans locaux, avec un mode de vie plutôt tranquille, et « la lumière du futur », représentée par des outils modernes, fabriqués par des multinationales, impliquant des chaînes logistiques globalisées, qui permettent la communication instantanée, donc une vie rapide et connectée.

Ces contrastes ne sont en aucun cas une menace pour la population locale. Au contraire, c’est un signe d’optimisme. Malgré la nostalgie d’une vie tranquille du passé, on n’oublie pas que c’était aussi une vie dure, dans une société fermée et ultra-conservative. Dans les pays en voie de développement, il y a une véritable soif de progrès, de modernité et de connexion avec le reste du monde. Paradoxalement, c’est dans ces pays-là, comme le Vietnam, que les nouvelles technologies sont adaptées le plus rapidement. Comme montré sur la photo, la dame n’est pas triste, elle sourit. Un sourire portant bien l’espoir d’un futur lumineux.

Enfin, la scène de la photo est pour moi un message fort : l’avancement de la science et de la technologie pourrait apporter des bénéfices aux gens même dans les coins les plus obscurs du monde. La participation des chercheurs et ingénieurs à l’amélioration des conditions de vie des gens en difficulté n’est pas réservée seulement à ceux qui se déplacent sur place, mais aussi à ceux qui travaillent tous les jours dans les laboratoires.

My preferred softwares

Each time when a new computer falls into my hand, I feel an obligation to install a set of software in order to make the computer better, and to make my life easier. My current list is the following:

I. Immediate installation:

1- Mendeley:

This is the first and the only journal paper management that I have ever used. It is a question of mastering a software and stay with it. Recently I learn that Mendeley is now under the Elviser brand, however no negative effects have been detected yet. Thank you very much Mendeley ! Many of my friends use Zotero and it seems to be a nice alternative.

2- Firefox:

This light and fast web browser offers everything one needs, but it doesn’t harm to have other browser like Windows Edge or Google Chrome, especially when they are most of the time pre-installed.

3 – Office suites:

Microsoft office suite is predominant in the publication business of applied physics, chemistry, and materials science. It is intuitive, and easy to use. Moreover, while it is possible to find alternatives for Word and PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel stands out as the best option for quick, easy and versatile data processing software. LibreOffice suite is a good alternative, especially for those who use Linux or who do not want to buy the Microsoft Office suite.

4 – Off-line mail browser:

Outlook is installed along side the Microsoft Office Suite. Otherwise, Mail or Thunderbird offer similar features and capacity.

5 – Texmaker and Miktex:

Latex is the best and most elegant document processing when it comes to big documents of more than 50 pages. It is free too ! The one feature that I love to use but not available is the “track changes”; but there are plenty way to do so.

6 – Notepad ++ (for Windows) and Gedit (for Linux):

Simple and versatile note-taking. They have also highlight features for programming languages, especially for Java and Python.

7 – Adobe PDF reader or Foxit reader:

this pair is the most equivalent between the alternative smash down. Either of them is more than enough for daily reading of PDF, and simple PDF manipulations.

8 – Dropbox:

The first file-sharing service that I use, and it seems to be the most cross-platform among other file-sharing software. Other services that can be considered are Google Drive, Switch Drive, and OneDrive.

9 – Skype:

The first and still the best for video communication so far.

10 – Python, with Scipy and Numpy and Matplotlib:

A nice combination of software programming with array data manipulation, sometime it is even better than Matlab.

II. Good if available:

1 – Mathematica:

Very nice way to work with equation, and also for illustration of physics phenomena with graphics and animation.

2 – Matlab (Scilab and Octave):

There are a lot of pre-defined features in Matlab that help us not to re-invent the wheel; but it also takes us a lot of fun from learning to program those.

3 – Autodesk Inventor:

I spent almost 2 years on a quest for the best illustrating software for my schematics, and finally land on Inventor. This is the most intuitive but still very powerful software for amators who are only interested in quickly creating decent schematics. Along the road, I have seen notably Autocad, SolidWorks, and Illustrator.

Ubuntu 16.04 Tiếng Việt dành cho người mới sử dụng – Nhận xét sau 1 tuần dùng thử

Ubuntu 16.04 là phiên bản hỗ trợ dài hạn mới nhất của hệ điều hành miễn phí Ubuntu. Bản 16.04 có một số thay đổi so với phiên bản 14.04, nhưng hầu như không khác xét về mặt giao diện. Từ phiên bản 16.04, tôi quyết định cài đặt ngôn ngữ Tiếng Việt cho hệ điều hành do muốn dùng thử để giới thiệu cho bố mẹ. Và sau 1 tuần dùng thử, tôi hài lòng với những gì Ubuntu 16.04 Tiếng Việt mang lại; và khuyến khích người dùng Việt Nam cài đặt để dùng.

Ngay dưới đây là danh sách của các phần mềm thông dụng và ảnh chụp màn hình của từng phần mềm với các thanh công cụ được dịch sang tiếng Việt. Tiếp theo sẽ là những tiện ích của Ubunto so với Windows và phần mềm bản crack mà phần lớn người dùng Việt Nam đang dùng.

I. Các phần mệm thông dụng bằng tiếng Việt trong Ubuntu 16.04

1. Firefox – trình duyệt web


2. LibreOffice Writer – tương đương với Office Word


LibreOffice còn cung cấp các phầm mềm Calc (tương đương Excel), Impress (tương đương PowerPoint) với tính năng gần giống với bộ Microsoft Office.

3. VLC – trên tài Windows Media


VLC chỉ là một trong số vô vàn các phần mềm nghe nhạc, xem video mà như Audacious, Audacity với các tính năng mà MediaPlayer không thể so bì.

4. GIMP – phần mềm chỉnh sửa ảnh chất lượng như Photoshop nhưng miễn phí


GIMP có tính năng như Photoshop, và cũng như Photoshop, nó tương đối phức tạp để so sánh với Paint. Nếu chỉ cần giống Paint thì hàng chục phần mềm khác có tác dụng tương tự.

5. các chế độ “Thiết lập hệ thống” – được dịch sang tiếng Việt và rất dễ dàng sử dụng


Một người không biết tiếng Anh hoàn toàn có thể sử dụng Ubuntu bản tiếng Việt vì phần lớn các tiện ích và thiết lập hệ thống đã được dịch sang tiếng Việt.

II. Lợi ích của việc sử dụng Ubuntu 16.04 so với sử dụng Windows và phần mềm bản quyền tại Việt Nam.

Có một vài lợi ích rõ ràng sau đây của việc dùng Ubuntu so với Windows và phần mềm bản quyền tại Việt Nam:

  1. Ubuntu và các phần mềm đi kèm Miễn Phí so với bản Windows và phần mềm bản quyền đắt tiền. Rõ ràng đây là một lợi ích đầu tiên của hệ điều hành và các phần mềm mở. Ở ta vẫn có người dùng Windows và phần mềm bản quyền thông qua bản crack (gần như là trộm) và vẫn vui vẻ với việc ấy vì “mọi người đều làm thế”. Điều này là sai.
  2. các phần mềm trong Ubuntu hoặc các chuỗi Linux khác đều được cập nhật đều đặn.Trái lại, bản crack thường kèm lỗi và không được cập nhật thường xuyên.
  3. Cộng đồng mã nguồn mở rất tích cực để mang lại trải nghiệm mới; cũng như việc dịch chương trình sang tiếng Việt. Điều này không như phần mềm bản quyển, vì họ sẽ không dịch sang tiếng Việt nếu thị trường vẫn liên tục dùng bản “trộm” như hiện nay.
  4. phần mềm mã nguồn mở có tính năng hầu như tương đương, thậm chí có những phần mềm vượt trội so với phần mềm bản quyền. Những tính năng có được từ phần mềm mã nguồn mở thỏa mãn phần lớn, thậm chí là tất cả những yêu cầu của phần lớn người dùng. Ví dụ mọi người dùng ở Việt Nam hầu như đều dùng và chỉ dùng 4 phần mềm ở trên.
  5. Số lượng mã phần mềm mã nguồn mở là rất phong phú, và cộng đồng sử dụng năng động, giải đáp thắc mắc nhanh chóng. Đây là một lợi thế khiến việc sử dụng phần mềm mã nguồn mở rất thú vị.

Tất nhiên phần mềm mã nguồn mở vẫn còn nhiều điểm cần cải tiến. Nhưng lộ trình rõ ràng của thị trường hiện nay rõ ràng là chúng ta sẽ hoặc sử dụng phần mềm bản quyền một cách sòng phẳng, hoặc sử dụng phần mềm mã nguồn mở. Như vậy, ít nhất xét về mặt kinh tế cho sinh viên, cho trường học, hoặc cho các hộ gia đình nhỏ hiện nay, mã nguồn mở sẽ trở thành một lựa chọn phù hợp. Và như vậy, bạn càng tham gia sớm thì càng có lợi. Và quan trọng nhất, đó sẽ là một trải nghiệm thú vị.