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
What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
Our intention is to understand how a living cell—the cell of our body—changes in pathological conditions (disease). We perform experiments onliving cells using methods of biophotonics (methods that employ light in living systems) and test their responses to changes in their environment, to pharmaceutical drugs, etc. I lead a small team of scientists, teach students, search for financial support, and write scientfic papers and/or book chapters.
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.