My career path
"I also like that we promote technology transfer ; in my lab, I’ve incubated and brought ideas to life. "
I’m a professor of bioengineering at EPFL. The job of university professor has been around for nearly 1,000 years – it’s an old profession. I did my studies at the oldest university in the world, the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088. In the space of 1,000 years, professors have generated innovation, but the concept of the profession itself hasn’t really changed. I like two aspects of my job in particular : my relationship with my students and my relationship with my colleagues. I like teaching courses to groups and seeing people grow so that one day they are ready to take on a leadership position. And with my colleagues, I get to conduct research.
We’re lucky to have a lab that I manage independently, where I’m the only person in charge, because we can carry out research based on our ideas. We also use EPFL’s shared facilities.
We develop new systems for analysing biological samples such as blood, urine and vaginal discharge. These systems are small “chips” measuring 2cm by 2cm that are full of complex data, and inside we put a drop of blood and aim to analyse it and quantify the molecules contained in the sample. We conduct biomedical analyses but with miniaturized systems.
I also like that we promote technology transfer ; in my lab, I’ve incubated and brought ideas to life. I like encouraging people to develop their ideas. That entails supporting my students and advising them so that they can set up their own businesses and market their solutions.
What I’m passionate about. I’m fortunate that I get to cover different things and keep pace with science. And more than anything, I like that I get to contribute to the latest technology and have the freedom to change topics every few years. I also like seeing students grow thanks to lab life. What drives me is having that freedom to explore still-unknown aspects of science. It’s a big responsibility, and not everyone has that chance. I’ve made it this far, just one of the many people who have tried, so I have to do it right.
My career path. I’ve followed the standard path of an academic. I first studied electronic engineering at the University of Bologna. Then I did a multidisciplinary PhD between Italy and France, where I studied electronic biosensors and developed molecular sensors. Back then, I was the lab. It was a travelling lab, so the equipment came with me. After that, I went to ESPCI in Paris – Marie Curie’s home – and did biophysics there for two years. I then went back to Italy, where, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get an independent research job and funding. So I decided to apply for jobs abroad. In 2009, I was hired as an assistant professor at EPFL, and several years later, as an associate professor. My support system has been made up of older colleagues and mentors, men and women alike, who were more experienced and told me that I would get there one day. When there are thousands of people who are trying for it, it’s hard to believe that you’ll be the one to make it. So actually, the support has come from other scientists whom I admired and who saw something in me when I didn’t see it myself.
I’m proud that I have to make difficult decisions without compromising on my principles : equality, humanity, ethics, and respect for others.