International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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the United Nations General Assembly adeclaried 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. For this occasion we wanted to give them voices , whether they are students, engineers or researchers.

Juliane Klamser
Cécile Davrinche and Valentine Rollot
Chloé Dupuis
Surabhi K. Sreenivas

Juliane Klamser

In 2019 Juliane Klamser joined the Gulliver laboratory of ESPCI as a postDoc, where she works on the statistical physics of active matter.

Out-of-the-norm to the power of two

(Paris, 11th Feb. 2020)

Today is my birthday. I am turning 30. The vast majority of my friends are settled. They bought houses, have children, and have stable jobs. Well, I am a postDoc, I still live in a one-room apartment with a shared toilet and shower on the corridor, and my husband lives 4.5 hours away. No, not 4.5 hours by car. That’s the time difference on our watches…
In comparison with my entourage, I am out of the norm. When we are out of the norm, we have a quite good inbuild alarm system shouting at us: "Hey, what the hell are you doing there? Get back on track!"
This alarm runs as constant background noise, sometimes louder and sometimes almost inaudible, but certainly always disturbing and irritating. Recently, I found the volume control: I realized that I am already on track. It’s my track to a life where I can do every day what I am passionate about. For me that is science, learning about our world, asking one question, just to find ten more, and finally finding an unexpected answer which is neither good nor bad but just true and pure.
If the energy of passion would be sufficient to power this volume control, I would never have heard even the tiniest whisper of this pathetic alarm bell. Unfortunately, passion needs confidence as a catalyzer for this task and here we come to the point…
Confidence makes the difference between a dream and a goal. We will only become what we believe that we can become. It is exactly here where our society builds brick walls with barbed wire for men who want to work in a kindergarden and for women who want to be theoretical physicists.
It is no news that we are put into boxes from early childhood on. Girls like pink, boys like blue. Girls want to be flight attendants and boys the pilot. Girls are good in biology, boys are good in math. Girls must be pretty and empathetic, boys must be strong and dominant. When I think about stereotypes, I get deeply frustrated and angry. Frustrated, because I feel like Don Quixote and angry because I am myself not able to overcome them.
I started physics with: „You think I will not be able to understand this? Well, I will prove you wrong!“ This worked very well while there were objective measures like exam marks for comparison. Graduating from university, meant to lose these regular measures as proof for me being at the right place, doing the right thing.
I was not prepared for this loss. In research, you constantly need to prove that you are good enough, that you belong. This task becomes difficult if you are not fitting in right from the beginning, and infinitely harder when other people make you feel that. I stress that this is not at all limited to women wanting to do science (you may deviate from the norm in other ways). The weak point is the confidence but confidence makes all the difference. Without it, goals become dreams and a passion becomes a liking and long working days become a burden.
This is what I wanted to share.
If you read until here and you lie within the comfy standard deviation: In the best case your takeaway is to give some positive-feedback credit to the youngsters, it may pay back tenfold!
If you rather belong to the large-deviation minority and you relate to this text: You might not always be lucky to have people around you who do not shy away to tell you what an awesome, hard-working, sincere scientist you are. If your confidence becomes a moody character with the tendency to autodestruction, then consider the following. If you do not believe that you can make it, how do you expect that others can? If you feel that your self-esteem is on holiday, do not wait and talk about it! Ask your supervisor/collaborator/colleagues for feedback. You will be surprised about the responses you get!

Cécile Davrinche and Valentine Rollot

Engineers of the 136th promotion, Cécile and Valentine are in their 4th year of specialization. They give us a lively reflection, both critical and enthusiastic.

Chloé Dupuis

Chloé is a PhD student from Sorbonne University at PMMH Lab. She works on neuronal cell culture in 3D.

I would like to say that for me there is no distinction between men and women of science. Of course, we have suffered from discrimination for hundreds of years, but today I really feel that we are increasingly respected for our true worth. Every day, in the laboratories where I work, I see women engineers, technicians, researchers, team leaders or even laboratory managers. Some positions of responsibility are still complicated to obtain, but I am confident that in the years to come, this distinction will diminish to the point where we won’t even be asking ourselves this kind of question. We are at the beginning of a new century, a new millennium, and the history that we will write together will be based on equality between women and men, I am convinced. I would therefore like to say to all young girls, to all women in the making, that the door of science is wide open to them and that they can be sure that they will find their place without being taken down or demeaned because of their gender. I would even like to add that we need them, those who want to participate in this great adventure because, for me, science will not advance in the same direction without half of humanity.

Surabhi K. Sreenivas

Surabhi K. Sreenivas is a PhD fellow from the Upto PARIS doctoral programme. Surabhi works on new super-resolution fluorescence microscopy in the Langevin Institute of the ESPCI Paris -PSL.

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