I've finished my PhD in pure mathematics in late 2013 in the US (2 published papers, 1 preprint), and after almost 4 years of postdoc in the subjects of pure math (1 year-unproductive), medical imaging and computer vision (3 years- 3 papers), I'm joining a research position in industry in France. I've done 3 years of postdoc in France (and currently here) and 1 in the US.

I'll be working alongside a professor of statistics in France who's a consultant for my company, and the company also encourages publications (after they get patent etc.). Besides, I'm collaborating with two people from academia and industry, and in 2-3 years or so, I hope to have 2-3 more publications.

My goal is to defend my habilitation in statistics/machine learning (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habilitation) in 3-4 years from now, as I'm very interested to have a joint academic-industrial position in the future. To elaborate, I'd like to hold a professor position in academia and also a researcher/research consultant position in industry. I'm happy to indirectly supervise PhD students alongside someone else but not directly. And somewhat shamelessly, I'd like to have a second income from academia on top of industry. I'm not a EU or US citizen, by the way.

My question is: is it possible for me to defend my habilitation in France when I'm not a part of French academia? Normally, I've seen only academics do that.

Thanks in advance!

  • 1
    It's been a while since I was in France, but I remember (part-time) supervising PhD students being an important component of the qualifications for habilitation. Will that be possible in your situation?
    – nengel
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:43
  • 1
    Here is the relevant legal text. Forgive me for this question, but what's the point of getting an HDR besides applying for a professor (or equivalent) job, and/or supervising PhD students?
    – user9646
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:50
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    @NajibIdrissi: I was hoping someone would ask that! As I mentioned, 5-10 years from now, I'd like to see myself significantly involved in both academic and industrial research in the use of statistics/machine learning and pure math (if needed, e.g. differential geometry) in healthcare related topics.I don't want to supervise students directly, but am happy to be a secondary supervisor in the future. Plus, I think (correct me if I'm wrong!) having an habilitation would improve my academic status, hence I can hold an academic position as well. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:55
  • @nengel: I edited the question accordingly, please see it. I'm not sure what's legally possible 5-10 years from now. I'd like to be a secondary supervisor of PhD students, but not the main one, as I'd ideally spend quite some time in the industrial research position. Thing is: I'm not aware of the law or rules in this regard. I'm not a EU citizen. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 13:07
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    I'm concerned that you would need to be officially co-supervisor of 3-4 students. If you're not in the lab, I don't think this would be good for the students or administratively feasible. But really, the professor you would be working with is best situated to answer these questions!
    – nengel
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 2:31

2 Answers 2


Yes, you may obtain an habilitation as a non-academic, but in fact you may not need one, see below.

An habilitation is a diploma. You would need to register in the doctoral school of a University, so the right person to ask is the director of the doctoral school. I know at least one person who obtained an HDR while working for a company.

However, it is not a simple matter. For example, the HDR procedure in Mathematics-Computer Science in Bordeaux has five steps before the defense:

  1. File an application. Note that there are prerequisites, such as mandatory training in directing thesis work.
  2. Evaluation of the application by the doctoral school.
  3. Evaluation of the application by the University Academic Council
  4. Formal response. If the response is positive, the candidate must complete their HDR within two years.
  5. Registration as an HDR candidate and constitution of an examining committee.

Once awarded, and HDR confers the right to be sole advisor of a doctoral candidate. It is a sufficient but not necessary condition for applying for a professorship: formally, the prerequisite is a qualification aux fonctions which may be accorded to non-academics (Appendix 11).

Note that a scientist working in industry may co-direct a doctoral student, if at least one of the other director(s) (there may be two others) has an HDR. I don't have my draft of the décret on hand, but if I recall correctly it is not necessary that the scientist have an HDR.


The academic system in France can be confusing:

  • In general, the first stage of an an academic career is "Maître de conférences", equivalent to assistant/associate professor. Anybody with a PhD can apply, provided they pass the "qualification aux fonctions de maître de conférence". At this level the academic can already supervise PhD students, but there must be a co-supervisor who obtained their HDR (it's common for the HDR supervisor to play a merely administrative role in the PhD).
  • The second stage is "Professeur des universités"; equivalent to full professor. Usually academics pass the HDR diploma before applying, and they must pass the "qualification aux fonctions de professeur des universités".

Interestingly, one of the criteria to successfully pass an HDR is to have supervised PhD students (actually to have "co-supervised"). Usually it is also required to have a solid experience in teaching, preferably including administrative duties (e.g. director of studies). Research-wise, the academics I have seen passing an HDR have usually published dozens of papers, some of these with a high citation count.

It's true that industry profiles are encouraged nowadays in academia, but I think it would be difficult for somebody with little teaching experience and a modest publication record to pass the HDR... let alone to obtain a position as "Professeur des universités" (the HDR doesn't give you any position). Additionally, I don't think you could combine the position (and the salary!) with an industry job: as far as I know you can get a sabbatical leave to go to industry for a while, but then you don't get paid on the academia side.

However I would suggest other ways to achieve your goal:

  • Teaching: many institutions hire industry professionals to teach specific courses (this is called "vacations"). It might not pay a lot but it gives you some teaching experience and contacts in academia.
  • The Cifre PhD funding scheme [fr] allows a company to hire a PhD student who works part-time in the company while preparing their PhD. The Minister of Higher Education provides a substantial amount of the PhD grant, making it financially interesting for the company. The PhD student has an academic supervisor and an industry co-supervisor: being the industry co-supervisor means that you get the PhD supervision experience and you can co-author more papers with your student.

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