"Science enables us to discover the richness of our planet"

Hélène Dupuy is a graduate student at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics and the French Atomic Energy Authority (CEA) in the field of fundamental physics, specialising in cosmology. She describes her mission as “a project linked to the European Space Agency’s flagship mission EUCLID which is programmed to start in 2020 with the launch of a telescope that will explore the universe for approximately six years”. She finds time in her busy schedule to talk to us.

What does science represent for you?

Science prolongs life expectancy, improves our living conditions (health, well-being, comfort, new technologies, etc.) and enables us to discover and understand the richness of the world we live in. Great scientific discoveries give us a glimpse of the incredible capacities of the human brain. I’m sure this represents only a tiny part of what men and women of science are capable of accomplishing. Science undoubtedly has many more surprises in store for us.

How did you decide to become a scientist?

In my case, I didn’t realize science was my vocation until quite late. Right up until the baccalaureate, I liked every subject that I was taught and had no real leaning towards any particular one. Choosing what course to do at university was a real headache. In the end I followed the advice of my teachers who encouraged me to try out some science courses after high school. Very soon I realized that the intellectual reasoning associated with math and physics was very appealing to me and everything fell into place. My love of science, more specifically physics, has only increased over the years, in large part as a result of the people I’ve met. Nonetheless, I have never lost my attraction to literary disciplines. In fact I sometimes regret not being able to split myself in two and develop two parallel careers, one in science and one in literature!

What aspects of your work do you particularly like?

I like the tremendous freedom associated with this job. The freedom to choose what you want to work on and how you conduct your research, the freedom to organise your schedule as you wish, etc. I particularly love being part of the cosmology community because I’m fascinated by how the universe was formed and how it is evolving. I also really appreciate being able to continually learn new things, on a wide range of topics, by attending classes and participating in international conferences. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to regularly meet research scientists from all over the world, some of whom are quite brilliant, and to be able to present my work to such prestigious audiences. And the benefits are not just related to my professional life… I have gained in self-confidence, learned to manage stressful situations and improved my public speaking skills.

Have you encountered any particular problems as a woman in your career? Or have you seen anything in your field that suggests it is difficult for women to be scientists?

I’m fortunate to be able to answer no to this question. I’ve been working in an admittedly very male environment for several years but being a woman hasn’t made it difficult for me to integrate and progress. So far I can say that I’ve never seen any signs of sexism in my professional circle.

Hélène Dupuy received a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.

For Women in Science

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