Where are former PhD students of the university working today?

Discover some of our alumni in portrait here:

Barbla Etter


When did you complete your PhD degree at the UniFr and on which topic have you done your research?

I studied for my PhD at the Faculty of Humanities between 2011 and 2016 in the field of multilingualism research and didactics on the topic of "Municipal mergers on the language border in the canton of Graubünden”.

I was employed as an assistant with two contracts at a total of 100%, 50% were credited for my PhD thesis. Over the 5 years, I had ever-changing contracts at the Chair of Romansh and at the Institute for Multilingualism Research.

What do you do professionally today?

I head the Shipping Section at the Federal Office of Transport and am in charge of a team of 7 engineers and one lawyer.

My work includes technical areas such as the approval of plans for the construction of new ships and the approval of the skippers' examinations for passenger ships, as well as a great deal of political work such as participation in various commissions (Rhine navigation, border waters, etc.) where I represent Switzerland as head of delegation. We also work on draft revisions of laws and regulations in the area of navigation.

Within my section, I have management tasks such as coordinating my team, staff appraisals, hiring new staff, or participating in internal meetings and closed sessions. In addition, I am the first point of contact for industry associations and the cantonal shipping offices, where we make technical contributions at information events and further training courses. And finally, I also coordinate the response to citizens' enquiries on the subject of shipping submitted to our section.

Which moments and experiences from your time as a PhD student remain particularly well in your memory?

Experiences I had at conferences were very good. It was exciting to discuss international research topics with other researchers and fellow PhD students.

I had a very practical research topic for which I had an intensive exchange with the municipalities and municipal presidents. It was always valuable for me to see that they had completely different concerns than the more philosophical questions we discussed at the conferences, e.g. to what extent it makes sense to implement multilingualism in the canton of Graubünden down to the smallest detail. The contrast of these two worlds was very exciting.


During your PhD studies, what challenges did you encounter?

My responsibilities for the department were many, such as teaching, supervising students, answering enquiries, translating and doing administrative work. There was little time for my own research.

There were many unspoken expectations on the part of the department and the institute and little understanding when I wanted to set limits. The reward for such commitment was quite low.

As a PhD student, you are in a weak position and often do not have the courage to criticise superiors or the system or to refuse a task. You are a cheap labour force with very few opportunities for development within the university.


How did your PhD studies influence your further professional career?

It taught me how to work independently and with a sense of purpose. Since I now hold a management position myself, I can say that no one at the university took the time to lead, to value the work and to promote the employees and give them a perspective.


Has your PhD degree been helpful to you in getting your current job?

The position I was applying for was for a university degree (Master's), I do not earn more because I have a degree. During the selection process, it certainly helped nevertheless, because a PhD shows that you have assertiveness and perseverance, can work independently and also bring large projects to a conclusion.

In my PhD thesis, I had insight into political business, processes and negotiations, which is very important for my current position. Another decisive factor was most likely that I speak all four national languages as well as English. However, I have always had a fascination for technology and machines, which was certainly helpful in getting this job.


Do you have any advice for current and prospective PhD students?

Choose a subject that captivates you - this is the only way you can persevere through the long period of your PhD studies. Face the world with a great deal of openness and apply for positions that you may not seem to be very likely to qualify for at first glance once you have completed your studies. Trust your gut feeling and dare to do the unusual - this is especially true for women, who often only apply when over 90% of the job description applies to them. 

Corinne Jud Khan


In what period of time did you obtain your PhD degree at UniFr, in which discipline and on which subject?

Between 2004 and 2009, I conducted my PhD studies in biochemistry at the Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Medicine on the topic of "The influence of light on the circadian clock of mice and men".

I had varying contracts depending on the source of funding (third-party funding from the EU, SNF, etc.).

My main work was research, but I also had a block internship during the semester with about 60 hours of work per semester and helped out at the department when needed. The real working time was probably around 150% most of the time.

What do you do professionally today? (Function and description of work)

I am member of the Agroscope Executive Board and head of the Method Development and Analytics competence area. I develop strategic decisions, manage my division with about 130 employees, of which 11-13 are direct subordinates, at four different locations in regard to personnel, finances and organisation. I represent Agroscope's interests in national and international organisations and am responsible for the laboratory strategy and the prioritisation of investments in laboratory equipment for Agroscope.  


During your PhD studies, what moments/experiences do you have particularly positive memories of?

The EUCLOCK meetings at Frauenchiemsee. Once a year, all researchers from 28 groups and 9 countries involved in the EU project met at the Frauenwörth monastery on Lake Chiemsee. As it was always winter, everything on the island was closed and the tour around the island only takes 15 minutes at a slow pace. This led to a very lively exchange between the participants. As a result, many good research ideas emerged and some of the connections made have lasted until today.


As a PhD student, what challenges have you encountered?

It is very exciting to dive into the depths of a topic. However, it is difficult to persevere when the results are not forthcoming. It takes a lot of determination and sometimes you have to try to approach the questions from a completely different perspective in order to take another step forward. The joy when things work out is incredibly enormous and you have to enjoy and celebrate these moments. Doing so gives you energy for the ups and downs of the journey to the next publication.


Which impact did your PhD studies have on your further professional trajectory?

Without a PhD degree, I am sure my career path would have taken a very different course. During the studies, you not only become an expert on a certain topic, but acquire scientific skills as well. The theory from your studies is put into practice. In addition, you learn a lot about yourself and your own abilities, but also your own limitations. During my PhD studies, I realised I have a talent for management which I enjoy very much. This has had a significant influence on my future decisions.  


Did your PhD degree help you obtain your current position?

Quite clearly yes. In addition, the multilingualism (g,f,e) at the University of Fribourg was a significant added value.


Do you have any advice for current and prospective PhD students?

Take an interest in topics outside of your PhD studies or even take on a voluntary position or two. This lends an extra dimension to you and your CV and provides balance.