HOWTO: do a PhD in stats, in France
Following questions from master students interested in doing a PhD in France, I thought I’d share some answers here. I’ll try to explain how the French universities work for PhD students (it’s a bit peculiar). It’s gonna get boring for any other reader, so if you don’t want to apply for a PhD in France, skip this post (and sorry). Basically three things are separated:
- the university to which the PhD student is affiliated. Every student has to be affiliated to an university (or more exactly to an “Ecole doctorale” = “doctoral school”). For instance CREST is a research centre, but there’s no doctoral school attached to it (yet), hence a PhD student at CREST has to have another affiliation. One more thing about doctoral schools: the PhD student is affiliated to the same doctoral school as the supervisor. So once you choose the supervisor, you don’t choose the doctoral school: you pick the same as his.
- where the money comes from: you have to get a funding, and the funding can come from various places: the university itself, the research labs (like CREST), some big private firms (e.g. EDF, the main French energy supplier, funds a lot of research on stats and economics), some private funding programs (for instance I’m funded by AXA Research), etc. There are many different institutions funding PhDs so at first, it’s hard to know where to search.
- where you actually work: that is, the place where you actually got an office (and possibly even a computer!). It could be in a third institution, in the university, in a research lab, etc. Not difficult to find when you have a funding, because at least the institution that agrees to fund you for a few years will also agree to give you a seat.
So for example I’m funded by AXA Research, my “doctoral school” is Université Paris-Dauphine (where my supervisor is affiliated) and my office is at CREST.
All this seems complicated but in practice it is not so difficult if you apply with the right professor, that is, the professor who knows the system and where to get the money from. So the hard part is to find the professor and to convince him that you would be worth his efforts. Obviously, when you contact a professor, it’s better to show that you’re motivated by having some understanding of the educational system, so that he / she doesn’t feel like he / she’s going to do all the administrative work alone. I can’t say much more about how you can convince a professor to take you for a PhD; that’d be for professors to answer (professors, if you read this…).
Some practical information: PhDs usually start during Fall, so the deadlines for applications are usually in Spring before (but it is not centralized, so some institutions put deadlines in January whereas others put them in June; the best is to contact professors quite early during your final year of master). It does not cost money to apply for a PhD. The PhDs funded by most universities and CREST are totally research-based: there is no classes to attend (you can attend courses if you want but you don’t have too), you can go to seminars (but you don’t have to either). The fundings are usually for three years, and they pay decently well: the CREST funding is around 1400€ per month I think, so you can live with that, even in Paris, though you won’t go to strip clubs every night with that kind of money (of course it’s pure speculation, I never went), and you would need to share a flat if you’d want to live in the city centre. You can earn additional income by giving classes (usually practical lessons for bachelor or master students), which can pay pretty well (up to 50€ per hour). Some funding contract will force you to teach, while some others will not. This is an important difference, both in terms of time and money. The best is obviously to have the possibility to teach without having to (CREST’s funding is in that case, at least for now).
Many students take a bit more than 3 years to finish their PhD, so there are usually possibilities to find an additional funding for the end of your PhD: be prepared to spend 4 years instead of 3. It’s rare that people would need more than 4 years, in statistics.
Finally, compared to other countries a PhD in France is really unrelated to a master so if you want to a PhD at university U, you don’t necessarily need a master from university U. As long as your master is research-oriented, you can apply for a PhD in the same field at any university.