It is a great pleasure to announce that the Autumn-Winter 2017 EPS Emmy Noether Distinction for Women in Physics goes to Dr. Patricia Bassereau from the Institute Curie of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, France, for “her important and innovative work on the studies of soft matter and in vitro biological systems at the forefront of the Physics-Biology science. Her rich and fruitful career is an inspiration for young women researchers.”
Patricia is a world leader at the Physics-Biology interface and carries out outstanding research on the physics of bio-membranes. She is a role model for how soft matter scientists coming from the physical sciences can make contributions in biology.
Patricia has been a Research Scientist at CNRS since 1986, first in Montpellier in the “Groupe de Dynamique des Phases Condensées” then, after one year as a visiting scientist in San Jose, USA, at the IBM Research Center Almaden. She then moved to Paris where she now leads the group “Membrane and cell functions”. She has received several prestigious awards.
As well as her numerous scientific achievements, Patricia is a great mentor and promoter of international scientific co-operation. Her enthusiasm has stimulated many students to enter the field at the interface of physics and biology.
We present a short interview in January 2017 between Patricia Bassereau [PB] and Lucia Di Ciaccio [LDC], chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee of the EPS.
LDC: At what point in your education did you consider a career in physics?
PB: Until I turned 16, I hesitated a lot to become a novel writer, or at least to have a career related to literature. I also liked mathematics and physics. Everybody pushed me then to study science, as a more secure choice. Thus I graduated from high school in science and studied physics at university, in particular solid-state physics during my masters degree. I became really enthusiastic about research and physics when I was exposed for the first time to “soft matter” during the final year of my masters degree. I then really considered doing a PhD and more, to become a researcher in this area.
LDC: During your career, did you feel that there were equal opportunities for boys and girls?
PB: I did my career in France, as a CNRS researcher. As a pupil, or a student in French schools or universities, I never felt that boys and girls had different opportunities, but probably because I wanted very hard to be treated like a boy is treated. At the CNRS, the chances to be hired and later promoted are also equal for men and women at equal professional level, if women apply. However, women tend to be less self-confident than men, or to apply later in their career for promotion. In principle, opportunities are equal, at least in academia in France, but some women might feel differently and have often to be “pushed” to take advantage of them.
LDC: Do you believe that physics should positively discriminate in favour of women?
PB: I am not sure that positive discrimination actions are the best solution. However, in places where the number of women is too low, this could be a temporary solution. Having more women in committees, and any place where decisions are made, surely helps having more women in physics, or them being considered equally with men. In addition, specific grants for young women starting in physics may also help them at a crucial moment of their life and career.
LDC: Do you have any advice for young women starting a career in physics?
PB: I experienced how important mentors can be. I have been lucky to meet great scientists who gave me advice, helped me gain self-confidence and also believed I could perform interesting science. Therefore, pick your supervisors and mentors carefully! At the same time, select students and post-docs for your group with whom you will be happy to work, both from a science and personal point of view, since you will spend most of your time with them. In addition, in order to preserve enough personal and family life, one has to work very efficiently, sometimes at unusual times. Finally, I know this is quite old-fashioned, but be sure to have fun with science and physics: you might often feel discouraged by the competitiveness of the field for instance, and scientific excitement should provide you the necessary support to go on.