THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE WiN GLOBAL MARCH NEWSLETTER.
You have such an impressive background, including some of your research work being recognized by the L’Oréal UNESCO Women in Science back in 2011. What motivated you to choose this area of specialisation?
On my motivation: My father, who studied nuclear, encouraged me to work in the nuclear field. When I was young, I had good results in school, especially in math and foreign languages, but had no idea what to pursue as a career. He suggested that the nuclear field would be a good fit for me. My mother was completely against this idea as she wanted me to have a more suitable job for a woman, like a medical doctor. But my father encouraged me. He really believed that there is a place for women in nuclear, that there is nothing to be afraid of, and that a nice career can be made in that field while combining my interest in math, foreign languages and travelling.
Current Location: France
Current Position: Researcher at CEA (Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission) in charge of technical group coordination on sodium fast reactor projects related to severe accident studies. Coordinator and lead of WiN Global Young Generation Group
Education: Nuclear Engineering (2009) from Czech Technical University in PraguePhD (2012) from INP Toulouse in France RecognitionsPrize recipient of 2011 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Scienceᐧ 25 publications to date.
On the L’Oréal prize awarded in 2011: Competing for the award was a good opportunity to finalize my thesis while I was completing my PhD in France. There was also a financial incentive linked to the award, and I used the grant to participate in many conferences, including the WiN Global Conference in Bulgaria. I have a great story about that. L’Oréal was going to announce the 10 young researchers and PhD students who have won the award, and at that time I was at the Conference. That day, I remember keeping my phone close to me, hoping that I would win. And then the phone rang and L’Oréal informed me that I was one of the 10 awardees out of the 400+ applicants! Funny enough, the number of applicants was exactly the same number as my hotel room! I was so happy because I was able to celebrate with everyone at the WiN Conference. At that time I was a student who couldn’t easily participate in many conferences because PhD students in general have limited budgets. With the WiN Global Conference, I was able to attend because another WiNner from Slovakia offered to share her room with me – so I was glad to invite her to dinner that day for a celebration. I’m happy that my memory of the L’Oréal prize is connected to WiN Global. Later, I used part of the grant to participate again in a WiN Global Conference held in Sweden the year after. The award enabled me to connect my research with the freedom to use the grant on things that are important and to network.
As a nuclear research engineer, what do you like the most about your current profession?
What’s best is that this is not a job where everyday is the same. People think of a research engineer as somebody who is in safety gears working underground or in a lab, but that’s not correct. It’s all about teamwork – we’re part of something bigger. International collaboration is important. Then there’s also the work of knowledge transfer: once we get to a certain stage of expertise, we’re asked to advise and support young professionals who are starting off in this domain. There’s education, communication, technical work, reactor calculations… It’s not all the time the same.
In many nuclear institutions like CEA in France where I work, the research component is huge. A big part of our work is dedicated to nuclear applications, not just reactors. Medicine, space and other domains are worked on in our research centers, allowing us to work on different projects and re-orient our careers if needed. This is what I like the most!
You said something very important – that nuclear is not just about reactors, but it’s all these other areas of peaceful applications, which are not very well known to the general public. If you could tell the public one thing about nuclear that they may have not known about, what would it be?
First, all the applications in nuclear have widespread uses. So it’s not correct to say that you’re against nuclear only because of power plants. There are certain areas that just cannot be ignored as they take part in human lives to help people live better. It’s not one-directional.
Second, people easily connect nuclear to their fear of accidents. This is prominent in my field where I research severe accidents (and I’ve studied this even before the Fukushima accident). I do think fear is natural when we hear about accidents and its consequences – if I hear about a plane crash and have to take a flight the next day, I would also be afraid. So yes, it’s natural to have fear but we really should believe in science and the people who are involved in this work studying its data and the statistics to evaluate the risk and benefits. What happened 20 years ago doesn’t mean it will happen again – we’re learning from the past and have new technologies and safety principles that the public should believe in.
Lastly, there is a lot of work done among nuclear societies to communicate the fact that nuclear has a minor impact on climate change. Although much has been done to get this point across, I’m still surprised at the data. For example, 86% of young people (18-35 years) in France think that nuclear energy causes global warming. Us working in the nuclear field know the data – that nuclear is a low-carbon production energy source and an effective part of the energy mix that generates small Co2 emissions. These facts have to be communicated in a more efficient manner.
As you said, a lot of misconceptions about nuclear is something we must actively resolve. Nuclear energy is a great way to combat, not cause, climate change and there must be a better way for us to talk about it. We know that this is also a bigger reason as to why you’re deeply involved with Women in Nuclear. Tell us about the time when you started becoming involved in the organisation, and the role our global network has played in your career so far.
The first time I heard that an organisation like WiN exists was from my father. Funny enough, he doesn’t recall saying that even though it was one of his primary points when arguing with my mother about my then future career in nuclear! But it was a catalyst for me and the reason why I started my studies in Prague – I was looking to be a part of this network.
Studying nuclear is not easy, especially in the beginning. You have to work on the basics of physics and math which is hard and can be monotonous. So it was very important for me to have a connection to help me understand my life in this field – why am I studying nuclear? What am I aiming for? What can I achieve and what kind of life can I lead? What are the career opportunities, and how can I fit my life as a woman into this field? All of this, I found at WiN and more. I had role models and many women who inspired me. The network at the international level was an additional advantage. I was able to challenge myself and my plans, and as I moved to different countries, WiN stayed as a family for me. Because the networks are worldwide, I could always find a support system in different countries.
As a young student, what was your expectation of your job and how is it now?
When I was a student working on physics equations, it was hard to imagine that I could be useful to the nuclear field. In my young mind, I thought I’d be doing calculations and theory presentations that would lead to some project builds, which was already a great attraction for me. But what I was pleasantly surprised and happy about was that my actual job is more than that. After the first years building my expertise and applying my knowledge learned in school, my career progressed to include more responsibilities, managing international collaboration projects, delegating tasks, and communicating with many stakeholders, etc. Sometimes I think that studying nuclear engineering seems to be an easier path than going to management school – based on technical knowledge, a person can become a manager and a leader.
It sounds like there isn’t a typical day as a nuclear researcher. When you wake up in the morning, what excites you the most about your work?
Well, I am always in a good mood to go to work (I know that’s strange)! I started my studies and work in a field that aims to resolve difficult technical topics. Nobody has found a solution yet, and my team and I are constantly working to contribute to its finding. This somehow is less stressful because we’re mindful of the fact that we’re playing a part for a bigger future. So, while it’s difficult to predict when we would collectively succeed, it does give us flexibility to our careers and a breathing space to be creative and innovative. Perhaps this is the reason why I’m always happy in the morning, because I know that our field has big ambitions and long-term goals that don’t need to be solved immediately — we’re part of something bigger. Combine this with my supervising higher education students and working on international collaboration projects, my work certainly brings me great satisfaction.
As part of Women in Nuclear, you’re responsible for coordinating the creation of the Young Generation chapter. Tell us more about this group and your vision as the coordinator for the chapter.
I support the idea of our WiN Global President, Dominique Mouillot, to bridge the connection between WiN Global and the young generation. This is a new initiative and I am very happy to help with this objective and I see it as a great way to share my enthusiasm about the WiN Global network with young generations.
As the coordinator, I am in charge of creating this group. Currently, there are close to 50 representatives on our team – young professionals under the ages of 35 with outstanding achievements. These young women are nominated by their local WiN chapters, who previously have had the opportunity to work with WiN Global members to achieve our vision and objectives.
Coincidentally, most of us became part of WiN Global by chance. This is because young students and professionals in general are not aware of WiN Global as we (the organisation) were not really visible in networking events. Many of us on the team came to know WiN Global through word of mouth, and were motivated by its members who helped us decide our career paths and acted as role models. And once we joined WiN Global, we saw clearly what the organisation can bring to the younger generation – from mentoring to professional development opportunities and much more.
That’s how the idea for this group came about: to create a direct path to WiN Global membership so that young students and professionals can join easily. We will mirror WiN Global and act as a bridge between the young generation and WiN Global. I know that WiN Global is extremely supportive of the young generation, and will listen to what we have to say and fulfil our needs.
To join the WiN Global Young Generation Group, please contact your local WiN Chapter for more information about many interesting projects, including in partnership with IYNC and COP26. To get all updates, follow their page on Linkedin: WiN Global Young Generation.