My career path
"What motivates me is finding solutions to fascinating questions or problems in physics, with talented, competent people who are passionate about what they do."
I’m a physics professor within the Faculty of Science at the University of Geneva. I study the functional properties of materials at nanoscopic levels, mostly using various scanned probe microscopy techniques. We try to gain insight into the relationships between a structure (often altered slightly, for example, in low dimensional materials or intrinsically nanoscale structures like ferroic domain walls) and properties, such as electric conduction, strong electromechanical responses, a magnetic order, etc, which can be significantly different in the same materials on a massive scale.
What I’m passionate about. On a good day, we see something that’s brand new, a funny phenomenon that we don’t understand but try to figure out. I also like teaching – seeing that “Wow, I just understood that, it’s so cool” look in their eyes when they’re faced with a new concept. What motivates me is finding solutions to fascinating questions or problems in physics, with talented, competent people who are passionate about what they do. And above all, I like brainstorming with my PhD students and postdocs and discussing new findings with my colleagues at conferences.
My career path. It’s the result of a series of moments that have added up along the way, driven by the personal and professional support that’s encouraged me to forge ahead. That support has come from my family and friends and from my mentors, who I can count on to provide concrete advice and honest feedback.
A downside or obstacle ? Definitely the administrative tasks, which are ever-increasing and at times absurd. And then surprisingly widespread in the academic world are imposter syndrome, stress and depression, which affect women more than men. Plus, the paradoxical, unclear expectations of what a successful woman looks like. And finally, although there’s less of it now, there is still the sexism, sometimes unconscious, that you observe when someone defines what a scientist is and what they should do.
There aren’t many women in my field, but luckily there are way more than there were 20 years ago. At conferences nowadays, physicists my age or older queuing for the toilet smile at each other and say, “Wonderful, there’s a queue !” Younger women look at us and think we’re a bit crazy, but it’s because there was once a time when there was no queue, not even at major conferences.
Scientifically, I’m proud of the first nanoscopic measurements I conducted of the roughness and non-linear dynamics of domain walls. More generally, I’m proud of the PhD students I’ve mentored. I’m proud that they develop so much and become independent in their scientific work, and that I’ve taught them to always ask questions and persevere despite setbacks. My strengths are my patience, my ability to see connections, my sense of humour and my imagination.