Photo: From right to left:  Mary K. Gaillard and Vanessa Wyrwoll
Photo: From right to left:  Mary K. Gaillard and Vanessa Wyrwoll

As a PhD student and a woman at CERN carrying out my research in the field of radiation effects on electronics, I had the opportunity to share my experience with students at a conference for women in physics and to meet a remarkable CERN Alumna.


I am blessed to be able to perform my work as Early Stage Researcher (ESR04) funded by an European scholarship in a project called RADSAGA, short for Radiation in Space, Avionics, Ground and Accelerators representing an innovative training network under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions combining industry, universities, laboratories and test-facilities.  Working in the R2E (Radiation to Electronics) group in CERN’s Beams department, I am looking into radiation effects of silicon devices especially with regards to the impact various particle types and energies are having on the aforementioned devices. Since the size of electronic components is ever decreasing, I am focusing on particles that have been up until now of minor interest. Therefore, I am investigating the very fundamental behaviour of those radiation types, which is of paramount importance for instance in airplanes or space applications.


I was lucky enough to have the possibility to participate in the Women in Physics  Conference 2018  held in September this year. I was encouraged to present my current work in front of many women in order to enhance their motivation and encourage them to may be take the path of a researcher. The conference was organised in Germany at my former university the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, where I studied engineering physics. I have obtained both a bachelor of engineering and a master of science there, before starting my PhD at the University of Oslo, using the research infrastructure available at CERN.


The guest of honour at this conference was Mary K. Gaillard, who worked as a theoretical physicist at CERN and is renowned for her strong involvement in the investigations of the standard model in physics. Furthermore, she is the author of the book "Singularly Unfeminine Profession, A One Woman's Journey in Physics” , which is an inspiring read for all women, not only in science.

In my case, much of Mary K’s statements in her book resonated with me; the chapters about her life at CERN and in France and also (and especially) the chapter about the survival mechanism are very inspiring and motivating for me. I have had moments where I had to think hard about what I really wanted and then just had to continue fighting for my standards and dreams, working as a researcher.


I was amazed to have the opportunity to talk to Mary K. in person during the mentoring lunch, where I could ask her my questions on the combination of family and career as a woman in science. Later I was very lucky to sit next to her during the conference dinner on Saturday, where we got more deeply into an amazing conversation about her experiences at CERN, family life and her path as a researcher. We talked about moments of success and hard times as a woman in science and in life. I personally was strongly impacted by her statement concerning what it takes to fulfil dreams. She said to me: “People told me, that I have a very strong survival mechanism and this is what it really takes”. This statement resonated so much with me personally and I am sure that it will also resonate with many women in the field of research.

I was so proud and honoured to meet such an amazing woman and one of my role models and heroes!

In turn, I wish to have the possibility in the future to pass on the experience and knowledge, gained during my time working in the RADSAGA project and perhaps inspire students in the role of a professor.


Passing on experience and knowledge between generations is also an objective of the Women In Technology (WIT) community at CERN, aiming at fairer conditions at work and at equal opportunities for women in science and technology, offering an encouraging platform for all women in the field of research currently outnumbered by men. Sharing and supporting each other is also promoted by the CERN Alumni network at CERN, which represents a unique possibility to stay in touch with this great Laboratory and the great people who are working or have worked there.


Vanessa Wyrwoll

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