International Day of Women and Girls in Science – in conversation with Claudia Contini

For Claudia, being happy in life is an inexhaustible source of motivation.

Originally from Sardinia, Italy, Claudia Contini does not come from an academic family and is in fact the only person in her family with a PhD. After a PhD in Physical Chemistry at University College London (UCL), she worked for five years at Imperial College London and is now a Principal Investigator*,  working as a BBSRC** fellow and lecturer at Queen Mary University, London, UK.

Claudia Contini

What motivated you to do research?

Doing research is highly motivating. Your daily routine is driven by curiosity and there is always something new and fascinating to learn. What I like most is the positive and optimistic approach that science has toward the significant challenges of our society. Science is working for a better future and researchers are working every day to move science one step forward.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

I like being in an international and multicultural environment. It allows me to interact and establish strong relationships with people from other countries, learn about new cultures, and share a different perspective. In addition, I work in a motivating research landscape where everyone can build their career.

How do your family/friends view your career choice?

I am often asked, “When are you going to find a real job?” It is funny because most of my family/friends view a job in academia as an (endless) continuation of your studies but not as a “real” job. This is probably because researchers turn their passion into a job and the line between the two is blurred. Which is really good!

What is your greatest success, and what is your biggest failure?

My greatest success is that I was able to balance a career in academia with a family. Being a mum is the most challenging job because it takes over your life completely.

I cannot think of one particular failure, because I always try to find and see the good in things. Every bad thing comes with some good and we need to highlight that.

What has motivated you (or who has motivated you) in difficult times?

Being happy! Having a great work-life balance is the key to my strong resilience. My happiness is independent of my professional career and it becomes my endless source of motivation.

Any tips for managing both your career and your personal life?

Just do your best and do not be too hard on yourself. When your personal life is very busy, do not try to continually catch up with your career and if you are a new mother, enjoy the present!

In your opinion, what changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women?

Women need more support. Despite the increase in the number of women pursuing a career in science, women scientists continue to encounter many obstacles in their careers. There should be more initiatives and funding for women, and inclusion in STEM needs to be constantly promoted.

* In many countries, the term PI or Principal Investigator refers to a researcher holding a research grant and being the lead researcher of the grant project.

** Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council