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Francoise Delplancke-Stroebele

Physicist and Department Head, Very Large Telescope Interferometer, European Southern Observatory (ESO), Germany
Country of birth: Belgium

Educational background: PhD, MS Material Sciences Engineering, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium 

Francoise Delplancke-Stroebele

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
I lead a department of (around) 10 people who are building the infrastructure for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. I meet with our “customers” (the astronomers) to identify their needs and translate them in terms of technical capabilities, sub-systems to be built etc. I develop the plans (efforts, schedule and budget) to fulfill these goals. I regularly participate in the installation and testing of some of these opto-mechanical systems at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert (Chile).

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
Human challenges are the most difficult: conflicts inevitably arise when working with colleagues of different cultures, language and backgrounds. The physical distance between the teams (in Europe and Chile) does not help. Much communication is needed, as direct and honest as possible. One should not be ashamed of expressing one's feelings in such circumstances and should be ready to listen and take into account the feelings of others. It is worse to keep these feelings hidden because they are present in decisions and attitudes one takes and are felt (and often misinterpreted) by others.

Do you have advice for young women considering a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)?
Just go for it. Don't feel intimidated if you are in the minority: being among a minority can be very powerful by keeping
the majority in check and offering a different point of view in critical moments. But don't ask or expect to be treated differently because you are in the minority: your rights are the same, no more, no less.