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Rocío Borrego Varillas: doing what you really like helps coping with difficulties

By . Published on 24 January 2017 in:
Interview, January 2017, ,

Rocío Borrego Varillas is a young postdoctoral researcher in Physics, who after graduating from the University of Salamanca in Spain, obtained a Marie-Curie fellowship. She is at present Research Fellow at the Politecnico of Milano where she works in the field of ultrafast spectroscopy in the UV range.

We report here a short interview with Rocio [RBV] by Eva Balaguer Salvador [EBS], Chair of the Young Minds Action Committee of EPS.

Rocío Borrego Varillas
Rocío Borrego Varillas

ESB. How did you decide to study physics?

RBV. It is a field that attracted me in high school. I liked the subject very much. When I had to choose my studies at University, I hesitated between medicine, mathematics and physics, and finally decided to study physics since I was fascinated by the many applications and the variety of fields covered by physics.

ESB.  Any worry to match your family life and a career in physics?

RBV.  It is not easy to find a balance between a career as a researcher and a personal life. Research requires a lot of dedication and it can be difficult to find time for family and friends. Moreover, the career of a researcher in physics often implies mobility (a postdoc abroad, for example). It may be challenging to settle down, but doing what you really like helps you to cope with these difficulties.

ESB. Are you worried about finding a job in physics?

RBV. Yes, I am. Finding a permanent position in research is very challenging nowadays. The positive message I would like to give is that physicists are able to do multi-disciplinary jobs, so there is a wide offer of jobs that we can apply for.

ESB. What have been the personal most rewarding experience and the biggest difficulty so far in your career?

RBV.  It was very emotional when I received an email informing me that I had been awarded a Marie Curie fellowship. It is a very competitive call and I was aware that the chances would be low.

From a more general perspective, when running an experiment, the final result is the sum of many small efforts: finding a small signal in the lab, optimising it, doing tests, the interpretation of the measurements… For me any of these small steps is a satisfaction in my daily life.

Concerning the biggest difficulty, I get very stressed when I have to make a decision for the next step in my career (to move for an internship, for a postdoc…) and how to balance work and family.

ESB. Did you encounter any difficulty in finding funding for a PhD or a post-doc position related to the fact that you are woman?

RBV. Not at all.

ESB. What do you think about “positive discrimination” to guarantee a balanced gender representation in responsibility positions in physics?

RBV. To be honest, I think that positions of responsibility must be held by people who deserve them, independently of whether they are men or women. I don’t think it makes sense to aim at a 50% women/men mix if there is not 50% of female students in physics. Therefore, the key point might be first to increase the number of female students.

ESB. Any particular advice for a young aspiring researcher?

RBV. My advice for students aspiring to do a PhD in Physics is to choose a research topic that really fascinates them. I would tell them: “the job of a researcher requires a lot of dedication and this may be hard on you, unless you love what you are doing.”

ESB. Do you have any female ‘physicist cult figure’ or ‘role model’?

RBV. Not really, but I like Lise Meitner and Marie Curie, for the way in which they overcame the difficulties they encountered in their careers.



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On 15 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The United Nations invites all Member States including academia, individuals and society in general, to observe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to promote the full and equal participation of women and girls in education, training, employment and decision-making processes in the sciences.

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