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Zara coat, sweater, shirt and shoes / vintage leather pants / lack of color hat / Pour la Victorie backpack

March 8th has long passed and so has my deadline to write for Anabelle.

I’ve had a lovely opportunity to meet a journalist writing for one of the most prestigious Swiss lifestyle and fashion magazines. It was the first time I actually enjoyed having a conversation with someone in so many fashion related events I’ve attended up until now. Brilliant, young and funny – I gave it my best to leave a good impression, and I guess a couple of good witty jokes did the job as she offered me to write for Anabelle. That was it, I could already see it – a real Carrie Bradshaw was being born! I had the shoes, I had the right notebook, I’d be working as a journalist – all that was missing was the future Mr Big, but hey, let’s focus on the shoes. I was thrilled by an idea of sitting on my white desk, in front of my notebook, all dressed up, with fresh tulips laying right next to it, sharing the words of Kristina’s wisdom with thousands of ladies here in Switzerland. But then it hit me, Carrie Bradshaw didn’t have to finish a PhD while she was wondering the streets of New York and gathering all the inspiration for her column. The determination and time were too high of a sacrifice I had to make in the most important year of my professional career. As much as I’d love to live my own Sex and the City dream, there’s another dream I’m aiming of accomplishing and that’s a more important one. So, after careful consideration, with sad heart, I had to say ‘no’. Besides, I’m having my Carrie moment every time I’m typing for your guys here, even though I know there’s only a couple of you actually reading my texts, but that’s still enough for me. Soon my first scientific paper will be written, hopefully published, and then my readers list will expand… for two more (me & my boss).

Publishing in Anabelle compared to publishing in any of the accredited scientific journals, the same as working for a fashion magazine compared to being a scientist, is completely different. As a woman, wanting to built my career in academia I have to accept the fact that I’ll be working in one of the most sexist fields. At ETH Zurich, for example, only 10% of all professors are women, and when you go to fields like mechanical engineering, physics, mathematics, computing, the number goes drastically down. As if the only pre requirement for such degree is a testosterone level higher than 200. Doing a PhD (in experimental biology) is frustrating, hard and unsatisfying for the most time, and it’s equally painful for both men and women. Somehow, the difference comes when we start climbing up our career path. Statistics say men are 2.5  times more likely to rise to the rank of full professor than female colleagues with comparable age, experience and publication records. No wonder the expression ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ is often used when talking about successful women. Funny thing, even when we get there, we will probably be less payed for the same job. What does estradiol level, a pair of boobies and vayay have to do with how much money you’ll get as a professors? Beats me. Even the women who have stuck with it, even those who have succeeded spectacularly, still report that being a woman in this intensely male world is, at best, challenging and, at worst, downright disheartening.

Now, how do I feel about trying to build my career where I already know I will have less chance for success and equal pay than my male colleagues? Frankly – I’m worried, but only a bit. We shouldn’t let statistics scare us. There are many reasons underlying those numbers, one being that many women actually don’t want to have high demanding jobs but rather focus all their efforts on raising a family. The question comes, even for those, whether they know that career and family are not mutually exclusive. The opportunities are there, we are equality smart, capable and innovative, but we are the ones who have to grab and keep them!

Despite all the frustrations, hard times and many failures during my PhD, I am not giving up because this is what I wanted to do since I was 5 years old and there’s a high chance I’ll be wanting to stay in this sado-mazo relationship for a while. We are the ones who have to make sure the history of science won’t be impoverished by women giving up and quitting. We have to serve as role models to each other, by taking good will and hard work, we need to make science a good choice for a woman and this is an effort that we cannot afford to fail.


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