"During my doctoral training, I had the chance to benefit from a mentoring programme for women. The main value of this type of programme is the space it offers for exchange and solidarity, in addition to specific training in many professional skills."
Stéphanie Pache obtained her PhD in Life Sciences in 2015, from the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM) and the University Institute for the History of Medicine and Public Health at UNIL. Since 2020, she has been a professor of sociology of gender and sexualities at the Department of Sociology of the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).
Title of the thesis (our translation): Politicizing Psychology. History of a feminist theory of psychotherapeutic practice (United States, 1960-2015).
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
SP: After studying medicine at the University of Lausanne Medical School, I did a thesis at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine in the history of medicine. After three years as a postdoc in the United States, I am now a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
During my training, I was very interested in the humanities and social sciences and in the social and political issues of health. When I started my training as an assistant physician, I was very shocked by the sexist practices in psychiatry. I was already in contact at that time with the University Institute for the History of Medicine and Public Health (now the Institute for the Humanities in Medicine). I realised that there was something to be developed in the analysis of psychiatric practices from a gender perspective.
Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
In a way, yes. I thought I could do my PhD while completing my clinical training in psychiatry and psychotherapy, but doing both activities in parallel was not that easy. At a certain point I decided that I needed to take more time to do my doctoral thesis. So I left my clinical training position and went on call. I then went to the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris on a mobility grant from the Swiss National Research Fund (SNSF). It was from this point on that I became a full-time researcher.
You are a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. On the day you defended your thesis, would you have imagined yourself holding this position today?
No. I did my doctoral thesis on the history of feminist psychology; I worked mainly on North American authors. At the time of my defence, I had submitted an application to the SNSF for a post-doctoral mobility grant to spend time at Harvard University with the support of Prof. Rebecca Lemov. I wanted to consult the archives of the people I had worked on for six years. I thought I would return to Switzerland after this short stay. I met other professors in the department, such as Sarah Richardson and Liz Lunbeck, and in the end, applied for and received three years of funding. During this postdoc, my colleagues encouraged me to apply within North America. It must be said that in Switzerland there is a real lack of permanent positions.
Apart from your teaching and research activities, do you have any other activities or commitments in your job?
I have only recently arrived at the University of Quebec in Montreal, so things are still developing. I’m looking to set up projects to develop links between researchers working on mental health issues from a historical perspective. I've also been a member of lab working on gender-based violence for several years, and I'm part of a society of historians of behavioural science.
What do you like most about this job?
Being paid to train people and do research is a priceless privilege. And I love teaching, even though teaching online is currently a difficult task.
Is there a link between your thesis topic and what you are doing today?
Yes, I am still working on how health has become a culture and a language in itself in our contemporary societies. My latest research project looks at how violence against women is addressed as a public health issue, and asks how this has had an influence on feminisms and on struggles against violence.
Can you tell us about the path that led you to your current position?
During my thesis, I spent two years in Paris at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales thanks to an SNSF grant. This stay allowed me to develop many contacts. The encounters I had at UNIL with guest researchers were also very important for my career. In particular, I met Rebecca Lemov, the professor at Harvard University who hosted me during my postdoc. At Harvard, it was a doctoral student from UQAM visiting the department who sent me the announcement of the position I hold today.
There is a lot of serendipity in academic careers, but serendipity is still made up of meetings between people. These are often people who share research interests or personal affinities. I can only advise attending scientific events and not hesitating to talk to the people you meet. It is around this type of meeting that the next steps in my career were built.
During your doctorate, did you prepare yourself to pursue your academic career?
Yes, but not right away. When I decided to pursue academic research, I was lucky enough to benefit from a mentoring programme for women (ed. the Réseau romand de mentoring pour femmes). The main value of this type of programme is the space it offers for exchange and solidarity, in addition to specific training in many professional skills, such as project management. I was also able to benefit from training at Harvard University, especially on aspects related to the application. This was very necessary for me as I knew little about the North American system. I think it is important that students can benefit from these resources; they are tools that can be very useful.
What advice would you give to a doctoral student or postdoc who is preparing the next stage of their career?
To think about who he or she wants to work with, i.e. to think about the working environment: being a researcher or teacher is not a solitary job. It's important to have support and help around you, and to look for where those affinities are.
Published on 7 June 2021