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What is the place of women in research, more particularly at the CNRS? How to succeed today as a female researcher? The HR blog would like to give you some insights. Check out the interview of Conchi ANIA, Research Scientist, ERC grant holder and panelist about “Women in research” at the UNECE conference.

 

Conchi ANIA, could you tell us about your career so far?

I received a PhD degree in Chemistry by University of Oviedo (Spain) in 2003 and I performed 3‑years postdoctoral stays in France (CNRS, Orléans) and USA (City College of New York, New York) after receiving regional (Asturian Region, Spain) and national (MINECO, Spain) postdoctoral fellowships.

In 2007 I incorporated at Instituto Nacional del Carbon in Oviedo (Spain), belonging to Agencia Estatal CSIC in Spain as a Ramon y Cajal researcher (a program aiming at repatriating and stabilizing researchers with experience abroad in the Spanish system of science), where I founded my research group (www.incar.csic.es/adpor), that has acquired international reputation on the development and integration of nanoporous solids for energy and environmental remediation technologies. In 2009 I got a tenured scientist position at CSIC, and in 2018 I was promoted to Research Scientist.

In 2017 I joined the CNRS (CEMHTI, Orléans) as Directeur de Recherche (DR2) and head of the Group Nanoporous Materials for Energy and Environment (POR2E).  Currently the research group is composed of 10 members (2 senior scientists, 1 engineer assistant, 2 postdocs and 5 PhD students).

In 2008 I got the L’Oreal-Unesco Fellowship Award in the program “For women in Science” (Spain) and the Excellence Scientific Research Award by University of Granada (Spain). In 2016, I was awarded an ERC-Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council, funded with 2M € to develop research activities towards “Integrating photochemistry in nanoconfined carbon-based porous materials in technological processes”.

I have a long-standing interest and a widely recognized experience on research activities related to nanoporous materials with tailored surface chemistry and architectures as structural and functional solids for high-tech applications, covering energy storage and conversion and environmental protection. Current research interests focus on the use of carbon materials as catalysts, adsorbents and electrodes, and particularly on photochemistry of carbon materials in various fields (synthesis, catalysis, sensing, electrochemistry).

As for scientific contributions based on common quality indicators, I have a large experience on coordinating (28) and participating (21) in R&D projects and industrial contracts. I have authored 8 book chapters, supervised 7 PhD thesis, published over 140 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals with over 3500 citations and an H-index of 34. I am co-inventor of a patent on the preparation of porous materials for the separation of gases of strategic impact, exploited for 2 years by the company SIAD (Italy).

 

How did you join the CNRS?

I joined the CNRS at the CEMHTI (UPR-3079) in Orléans as Directrice de Recherche in 2017, but my connection with CNRS dates back to the early stages of my career, from my days as postdoc.

In 2005 and 2006 I was a postdoctoral researcher in the group of Dr. François Béguin at CRMD (ICMN, CNRS UMR 7374) in Orléans, which allowed me to create a network of collaborators with research groups in France, as well as to get some knowledge on the opportunities for a career development at CNRS. After getting a tenure track position in Spain, in 201, I was an invited researcher (poste rouge) in the group of Dr. Cathie Vix-Guterl at IS2M (CNRS UMR 7361) in Mulhouse.

In 2016 I was awarded an ERC-Consolidator grant (project PHOROSOL), which is an action of the European H2020 program to support the highest quality frontier research across all fields in Europe, through a highly competitive funding system on the basis of the scientific excellence of the researcher. During the negotiation of the Grant Agreement with the host institution some difficulties arose, and I had the opportunity to contact CNRS upon the advice of friends and collaborators.

CNRS offered better technical and research facilities and human resources committed to the project, as well as an interdisciplinary research environment, overcoming the challenges and cornerstones experienced in the first months of implementation of the action. Excellence in research is an important aspect of the scientific policy of CNRS, and in the last years it has been working to create the conditions to attract highly skilled scientist from all over the world. In my case, the commitment and support of CNRS at various levels (assuring better research conditions for the successful pursuit of the project) was the fact that triggered my decision to joint CNRS.

The specificity of the ERC program allows the portability of the grants; in my case it was approved by the European Commission in January 2017. Thus PHOROSOL project and POR2E group are now settled in CEMHTI, Orléans.

 

You have been selected as a panelist on the topic “women in research” during a UNECE conference. What is the place of women in research in general and in particular at the level of the CNRS?

 

A high-level panel discussion on “Gender Equality as an accelerator for SDG implementation”, was organized by the United Nations Issue-Based Coalition on Gender Equality for Europe and Central Asia Region (UNECE) in Geneva on 2 March 2018, as a side event to the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development celebrated on 1-2 March following up on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UNECE region. The objective was to present gender equality challenges in different domains, as well as examples of actions being implemented in different regions, with the support of national and regional agendas.

I was appointed by the Royal Academy of Science and International Trust (RASIT) to participate as a Representative of the Civil Society in the panel discussion, as a woman with a scientific career, to share my personal vision about current challenges of women in science.

Why science? Science and innovation of technologies are the basis for many solutions to tackle current global challenges. For instance, threats to the environment, energy efficiency, and access to clean water and sanitation are very much dependent on the knowledge and advances that our societies are capable of providing. Diversity of viewpoints enhances creativity and boosts innovation, thus an advanced society cannot afford to limit the presence of high-skilled women in the field of research. Meeting goals and expectations of the Agenda 2030 is a gigantic task that certainly cannot be achieved excluding women.

Research is one of the fields in which women’s progress has been proved to be slow. This is quite surprising considering that the presence of women in universities, and the number of women graduating in high education centers is currently overtaking the number of men in many countries. However, such high level of education does not translate into a proportional rise in the numbers of women in the top-scales of scientific careers (higher positions, responsibility roles).

A report released in Sept 2017 by UNESCO on girls’ and women’s education shows that the under representation of women and girls in science technology, engineering and mathematics starts in the earliest years of education. This is a result of social gender stereotypes (biased school environments and parents’ own attitudes) that are consciously or unconsciously passed on girls at a young age. As a consequence, the self-confident and interest to engage science-related subjects is decreased.

After high level education, women are left behind in the scientific career. The number of women that start their master and PhD studies is nearly gender balanced (although certain disciplines such as physics, mathematics are strongly unbalanced). When it comes to postdoc positions the number of females decreases sharply (on average below 35 % women) and it continues to decrease for higher positions (tenured scientists, professors). This is often referred to as “leaky pipeline”, and reflects a big problem for the system, not only for women. Despite the number of women in academia in the early stage of their careers, they drop out of the system when it comes to higher positions in academia.

The Report of the Expert Group on “the Interim Evaluation of Gender Equality as a crosscutting issue in Horizon 2020” released in 2017 revealed interesting data on the role of Science in Europe, through its participation in the different actions of H2020. After analyzing various key performance indicators (e.g. women in advisory groups, and as participants and coordinators in H2020 projects including Marie Curie Actions, ERC projects), it is clearly shown that making a career in research is still more difficult for women than for our male colleagues. As an example, the report of the EU showed that in 2014 only ca. 36 % of women were in the expert database of H2020 for evaluation panels and expert groups, while the participation of women advisory groups is ca. 52 %.

The trend is much more pronounced when the analysis is carried out considering not only gender but also age parameters; unfortunately, this is not always possible due to the lack of disaggregated data (another great challenge towards gender equality). As an example, an analysis carried out by the Spanish MINECO on results of ERC grants showed that women accounted for ca. 35 % of the approved grants when young researchers were targeted, as opposed to 15 % for the grant directed to scientists over 45 years old.

The CNRS does not scape to this phenomenon, and the outcome of INTEREG -a project aimed to analyze Gender Equality in Research in 2011-2015- revealed similar trends. The participation of women in national committees in 2014 was of ca. 11%,; the ratio of female to male for the different positions in CNRS (CR, DR) revealed the gender unbalance with ca. 38% women with a Tenured Scientist (Chargée de Recherche, CR1) position and 21 % women in Research Director (Directrice de Recherche, DR1) positions in 2014. These differences became more pronounced for some disciplines like Section 2 (théories physiques: méthodes, modèles et applications), Section 4 (Atomes et molécules, optique et lasers, plasmas chauds), Section 6 (Sciences de l’information: fondements de l’informatique, calculs, algorithmes, représentations, exploitations), Section 37 (Economie et gestion) and 41 (Mathématiques et interactions des mathématiques). Based on this, the CNRS has recently started an action plan to increase the awareness of the problem and implement activities for boost the participation of women in science at different levels (recruitment, responsibility positions, balance in promotions, dual-careers, gender studies) through the platform Mission pour la place des femmes. We shall see soon the impact of the implementation of the measures.

Changing these facts can only be done by raising the awareness of the problem and through a continuous commitment of all the actors (institutions, decision makers, civil society, scientists). Gender equality in the scientific career is not just about women trying to break the glass ceiling alone or about giving greater consideration to applications from women. It is about men and women working together for moving beyond quotas, holding a proactive approach with female scientists who are worthy of promotion.

 

You are also a grant holder of an ERC project on the topic “Integrating photochemistry in nanoconfined carbon-based porous materials in processes”. What could you advise young researchers and more particularly young female researchers at the CNRS in order to succeed their careers?

Awareness of the reality challenges of women in a scientific career is one of the most important facts for young women scientists. Despite progress of women’s scientific careers is slow compared to male’s one, women should not allow this to affect their expectations. My advice based on my personal experience, is that it is critical to be prepared and to develop a plan for career prospects (the sooner the better). It is important to learn to identify the right direction for creating your own professional opportunities, and to develop new skills and knowledge that would lead to it.

Broadening the horizons and gaining experience abroad working with other scientists to establish the own network of collaborations is also important. Participate actively in scientific events is crucial to build a professional image and recognition within your peers. Let the scientific community know of your work; in this regard, there are countless of good scientific publications released every day… and simply no time to read them all. Thus, disseminate your work in person if you want to make sure that it will not to pass unnoticed.

Find mentors (beyond your supervisor) that can guide you and advise you to promote your career. Take risks and put yourself in the running applying for grants, projects and awards (national and international); this will show your maturity and scientific independence.

From a personal viewpoint, it is important to define your priorities, and do not let anyone (particularly your family and your partner) but you to change them. Also, be aware of your progress and evaluate periodically your plan and the decisions that might be needed to achieve your goals.

 

Crédits image : @ Linda Jeuffrault/CNRS Com DR8

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