chronicle of a researcher part 1: the academic path

Who has never looked at the starry sky on a blue summer evening? We are all dreamers, curious, insatiable researchers. It’s in our nature.

But doing research his business, that’s a whole different matter … And at GinGo, we wanted to know a little more about the career of these enthusiasts, these scientists who decided to devote their lives to the discovery . Here is the testimony of Romane Le Gal, astrochemistry researcher at Harvard University (USA).

Being a researcher is above all a passion

As far as she can remember, Romane told us that she has always been passionate about the sky and the stars. Living in Paris does not offer the best opportunities to observe the stars, but her attraction to science was born during her vacation spent by the sea: “I often observed the stars on summer evenings with my father. He was also a researcher, but in philosophy at the CNRS, and always let me feed this passion for astrophysics. “

From a passion to researcher status: an entire academic career

With stars in her eyes, she decided to become an astrochemist. After a scientific baccalaureate and two years of prepatory class at the Lycée Saint Louis in Paris, she joined an engineering school “SupMéca”. She pursued a double degree: a master of mechanical engineering along with a master in astrophysics for which she obtains the status of doctoral student and prepared a thesis for 3 years.

“After our thesis, it is often advisable to do what we call “post-doc”, a kind of fixed-term contract in research that is preferably carried out abroad.”
Indeed, preparing a thesis takes a lot of time and investment. During this period researchers do not really have the time to publish to get acknowledgement in their field.
And this thesis alone is generally not enough to be accepted in the great scientific institutes as a permanent researcher.
Romane completed a first post doc at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, United States for 3 years and is currently doing her second post doc at Harvard. 

France vs USA: perspectives as a researcher

After her post doc at Harvard University, Romane told us she wanted to return back to France to continue her research work. Why this desire: homesickness or better perspectives? “France and United States offer a different model for researchers: in the USA you find what are called PI (Principal Investigator) in universities and research institutes. They are responsible for finding fundings for 3 to 5 years and for managing research programs. It is a shorter-term vision. In France we rather work by teams of researchers of all kinds and we usually hold permanent jobs. It’s also a personal choice for the moment… and I’m still open to international opportunities. First of all, my dream is to keep working as an astrophysicist”.

Our researcher is currently candidating for national competitions in France, including those for CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) and CNAP (National Council of Astronomers and Physicists). It is a long and  selective process: in fact, only 5 positions per year are opened in astrophysics, for more than 200 candidates… So sometimes they can try their chance over several years.
Now you know a little more about the tumultuous path that leads to the status of researcher. To make a passion of your job requires perseverance and determination, and these two qualities are undoubtedly rewarded by a exciting life. As Romane told us, “Research never stops” and the passion neither!

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