Elisa Caberlotto

Elisa Caberlotto

Research as a profession

Take the time to see what you like. This is your future.

Elisa Caberlotto is a biophysicist. Of Italian origin, she came to France in 2007 at the end of her master's degree in fundamental physics to do a thesis at the Pasteur Institute on the mechanical-electrical transduction of the inner ear. Today she is group manager in Advanced Research at L’Oréal. Her team works on fundamental research questions, on problems of mechanical properties of hair fibers.

Back to basics for an alumna

A PhD from the 2011 class at Sorbonne University, she remembers a day of doctoral candidate-company meetings, where a round table was held with the L'Oréal company as a guest and while she was not considering a future in a private company, her destiny had changed. Aware of the importance of this type of event for the future of doctoral candidates, she agreed to come and testify during the First Year’s Welcome Day in November 2023.

On this occasion, she returned to what made her proud, in hindsight, by thinking back to her thesis years. As a doctoral candidate, she worked in a laboratory at the Pasteur Institute on Usher syndrome. The challenge was to communicate with biologists, geneticists and doctors. She also subsequently noticed that everything she learned during this thesis were soft skills, which could have value in terms of scientific approach, open-mindedness, autonomy, ability to dig into a problem to the end,. Last but not least, she continues to maintain the international network built during her thesis years which she considers a treasure. It helped her set up collaborations and exchange opinions on certain scientific subjects.

From thesis defense to joining L’Oréal

Elisa Caberlotto obtained her PhD in May 2011. While she mastered a technique that was difficult to implement, many laboratories offered her the opportunity to do a post-doc but none of the offers appealed to her.

While continuing to work in the laboratory, she activated her network to find out what she could imagine doing. She started looking at job offers in the private sector, applying to consulting firms like BCG or McKinsey and to big companies like Sanofi or L’Oréal. She also went through several stages in these procedures: after refusing a position at Alcimed, she finally joined L'Oréal after six interviews with different levels of human resources and management departments, at each stage with people with increasingly higher positions in the company hierarchy.


The evolution of a young researcher towards management

Initially, Elisa joined the group as a research engineer in instrumental cosmetics and remained in this operational position for two and a half years. Then, she began to supervise students and have a role as project manager in the same entity before becoming, after approximately four years - after her maternity leave - team manager in the evaluation department where she supervised 15 people distributed in three different small laboratories for two and a half years. But she was missing the science, so she then became laboratory manager in a new entity. While she had always worked on skin, she changed to work on hair. A year after taking the position, her mission was broadened by responsibility for a platform for evaluating the physicochemical properties of raw materials applied to hair in advanced research. She has been working in this position for four years: she manages a team of 16 people, nine of whom are permanent, and co-supervises a thesis with the University of Glasgow.

Soft skills make the difference between candidates

Recruiting PhDs in her work today, what she is looking for is passionate people who have learned to explore a problem, who manage to apply the scientific approach in everything they do. “During your thesis, you will learn a lot of techniques and no one will doubt your skills on this point. On the other hand, recruiters also look for soft skills. With experience, we know what will work. At L’Oréal, we work in project mode, it’s the interactions that take precedence.” Furthermore, in both private and public research, everything related to communication is important. Knowing how to disclose information in an understandable way, learning to talk about your own subject while adapting to each interlocutor is a fairly difficult exercise, which people who have completed their thesis generally do not know how to do, according to her.

Take advantage of the thesis time to get to know yourself

Among the advice that Elisa gives, the importance of knowing your own preferences often comes up. Personally, she remembers having to set up a very complicated procedure, alone in a dark room all day. She did it perfectly but she also understood that she didn't want to get stuck in this activity for too long. According to her, doctoral candidates do not necessarily take the time to ask themselves questions such as: what do I like and don't like about what I do? what do I like the most? spending my day looking for bibliography? doing this type of manipulation? working with others? going to conferences? She insists by saying “Take the time to look at what you like. This is your future.”

On the subject of professional and personal life balance, she talks about the rushed moments during the doctorate as well as in companies. After these special moments, you have to say stop, slow down, take a vacation. Not everyone has the same work capacity. You have to know how to listen to yourself, see the signs of weakness. “If you can't sleep, if you constantly think about your thesis subject, if you have nightmares... you need to know how to take a break. It’s a job to do on yourself.” Her final advice is “Learn to know yourself”.