A PhD student can be seen as a "researcher-trainee" working for three years on a research topic, a PhD dissertation, in order to obtain the doctor grade, which is the highest university diploma recognized all around the world.
A PhD student is both at the same time, a researcher and a student, is employed by a faculty of an university and sometimes works in close relationship with a company. The PhD students earns his life in the frame of a three year work-contract in which his main objective is to produce a contribution to a specific research topic. He needs to know the context in which is topic is set and therefore he need to do a extensive and well documented literature review of his topic. A PhD student is supervised by his supervisors and can find support in the department in which he works, but he needs to be autonomous and to work in an organized manner. The supervisor's role generally defines the global aim of the study, follows the progress of the work and provides support based on his knowledge or his network. As a researcher, the PhD students is expected to attend to conferences and to publish. A PhD is a mid-term work experience in an academic context.
Depending on his contract, the PhD student will have the opportunity of providing teaching hours. The teaching missions are mainly composed by supervising practical classes or some students project from university. A classical teaching contract is composed by 64 hours in a year.
As a student, the PhD student is registered in a graduate school and should attend to a given number of training. This training can be composed completed by attending to seminaries, conferences, classes from university (Master level) or training directly provided by the graduate school. In Lyon, the graduate schools gathered to create SIGED, a useful website in which all information concerning the proceeding of a PhD thesis and all training proposed by them are given. These training can be linked to some PhD related scientific topics, some general skills required in a professional environment, training on some software or others.
To obtain his PhD diploma, a student needs to write a PhD thesis and to perform an oral presentation of his work (45min) in front of some well-recognized researcher. The jury evaluates the thesis script and allows the PhD student to defend in order eventually to get his diploma. The participation to some international congress and/or the publication of his work is/are also key points to obtain the degree.
To put it all into a nutshell, the PhD student is more than just a student. Even if he may attend to training and classes, he does not sit for exams. The PhD thesis is a enriching work experience in an academic context (likely with teaching experience), and can be capitalized regardless of the future professional orientation of the candidate. The PhD thesis is also the chance to comfort drastically ones technical competences and to enhance his professional network.