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What’s in a prize?

Dr Geneviève Almouzni is Deputy Director of the Institut Curie in Paris, France. © Pedro Lombardi/Institut Curie
Dr Geneviève Almouzni is Deputy Director of the Institut Curie in Paris, France. © Pedro Lombardi/Institut Curie

Dr Geneviève Almouzni is Deputy Director of the Institut Curie in Paris, France. She is the laureate of the 2013 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award, a joint initiative of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) and the Euro­pean Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). Launched in 2007, the aim of the award is to highlight the major contributions made by female scientists to life sciences research. We asked Dr Almouzni what she thinks about such awards specifically dedicated to female scientists.

Dr Almouzni, what value do you see in such awards?

It is clear that the 2013 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award does not allow us to hire a researcher, it’s more of a personal prize. Nevertheless, this money may be used to cover some small but urgent requirements in the laboratory. However, the real value of the prize does not reside in the amount of money that supports it. It’s the message it conveys that is important. It is of course a personal encouragement, but there’s also another dimension to it. This Award is a way of showing the attractiveness and beauty of the life sciences, and encouraging young women to become more involved in this field of research, with a specific emphasis on the area that I have been mostly involved in – concerning nuclear organisation and epigenetics. This kind of prize gives visibility to scientific careers for women as well. And this can be really important.

Aren’t there too many of these Women in Science awards?

In Europe, the existence of these awards is important because the situation of women in science varies too much from one country to another. I think that giving female scientists more visibility promotes harmonisation at the European level.
That said, I’m cautious about the ‘women in science’ idea that these prizes convey. I do not want my work to be recognised just because I am a woman. I want to be judged on the quality of my work and on that intrinsic quality only.

The proliferation of prizes specifically for women does not pose any problem for me because they are all different. Some encourage young researchers, others crown results in the longer term. Together, they show that a proper career in science is possible for women, at different stages and in different places. But, on the other hand, we must also take into account the specific social environment in which women carry out a career. This is not sufficiently addressed.

You point here to the difficulty of managing a family and a professional life at the same time?

Indeed. It’s a fact that women usually take more time to care for their family than men. It has therefore a huge impact on their career. This means, for example, that they can less easily participate in conferences, take part in assessment bodies or join scientific board meetings. This is not necessarily a choice for the men, who have the pressure of their working and social environment too and may also appreciate spending more time with their families.

Mentor and motivator

Geneviève Almouzni is a biologist. She studies the basic molecular mechanisms regulating DNA replication and chromatin assembly in the cell.

She is also highly engaged with the European scientific community as the coordinator and member of international projects such as the Epigenome Network of Excellence and the European Network of Excellence EpiGeneSys. Recently, she received a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator grant.

As a result, women are less present, less visible. This is not because they do not perform as well as men, but because of a variety of reasons that are not necessarily related to their skills! We must take this into account when we think of new ways to support scientists. As an example, I would be very happy to see, one day, a prize awarded to a male researcher who is involved as much as his wife in the daily management of his home and his family, while at the same time having a full scientific career! I know some of them.

Children are an important part of our life for both women and men. That is a fact. It also means that labs should organise themselves in such a way that they take that ‘fact’ into account for all their scientists, from the very beginning of their careers.

Should we therefore change the rules regarding the funding of research in terms of gender?

Certainly not! We must give priority to the quality of scientific projects before anything else. But, we must also be careful to ensure that the criteria of scientific excellence are equal for all men and women and that men and women can equally enjoy and share their family life.

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