quest for professional development
Trained as a scientist in her
native Italy, Dr Paola Arimondo has since worked in Germany, the
UK and now France. She is already planning her next move –
convinced that personal mobility is crucial to expanding a researcher’s
all the bureaucratic problems were taken care of, that would help
to encourage people to move,” believes Dr Paola B. Arimondo,
who left Pisa University
with a degree (laurea) in chemistry to take up a 36-month
Marie Curie Fellowship in Paris.
“I left Italy because I wanted to change subject to work in
biochemistry and I thought it would be easiest to change university,”
she explains. “I decided to do the training abroad because
I felt it was important to learn a new way of doing science and
to have a different experience. I had just finished my experimental
thesis, with a three-month Erasmus
scholarship in Germany, which was very interesting and I learned
a lot. I wanted to continue to progress in this way, so I chose
In October 1995 she joined the Biophysics Laboratory of the Muséum
National d’Histoire Naturelle www.mnhn.fr/ (MNHN) in Paris,
and obtained her PhD in 1999. After 12 months in Lille in northern
France, she returned to Paris for her second postdoctoral year at
the Curie Institute
before taking up a permanent research position at the Centre
National de Recherche Scientifique.
Dr Arimondo has already made her mark in her chosen research specialisation,
centred on the targeting of specific DNA sites with anti-tumour
agents used in clinics. Last year she received a Marie Curie
Award for Excellence, and the Prix de l’Encouragement
of the Société Française de Chimie Thérapeutique.
Cutting the red tape
The main problems she encountered when moving were bureaucratic
and administrative ones. “They were not big obstacles, but
they were time-consuming,” comments Dr Arimondo. For example,
there was the question of recognition of her Italian university
qualifications, of converting her EU fellowship into a French contract,
and then of having repeatedly to renew her work permit, because
as a post-doc researcher she had no formal status. Since November,
this last barrier has been removed for Europeans (law n°2003-1119).
Finding accommodation in a crowded city like Paris was another problem.
You need a guarantor – someone with a salary – in order
to rent an apartment or open a bank account. Dr Arimondo was fortunate
in having family friends in France who were able to help out, but
she recognises that this could be a real obstacle for people without
contacts in the host country – researchers from the new EU
Member States for example. She received informal advice from colleagues
at work, and has since helped others to obtain work permits and
accommodation. Over the years, the laboratory staff have gained
experience in assisting the growing number of visiting students.
Nevertheless, a more formal support structure such as a national
helpdesk for foreign researchers would be very useful, she suggests,
as would language courses provided by the host institution.
Cross-border collaboration between research centres is important,
believes Dr Arimondo, but cannot replace personal mobility. Moving
abroad plays a vital role in a researcher’s development. “Both
aspects are important, but from a personal point of view, getting
experience of another country makes the individual more productive,
more innovative,” she insists. It can also act as a catalyst
for further cooperation.
Dr Arimondo says moving has become a lot simpler since she first
took the plunge. “It should get even easier,” she adds.
“For my training, it’s important that I continue to
move to get new knowledge.” She is currently organising a
sabbatical, probably in the USA. There is more money for research
there, and moving to a new laboratory means a wider research approach,
but she has no plans to stay in America. Europe has very good research
centres, she says, although she believes changes are needed in funding
methods and the way scientists are recruited.
Although she has collaborated with private industry, Dr Arimondo
prefers to stay in the public sector. “It’s a different
mentality – it’s not what I am suited for,” she
explains. “I am shocked each time I hear about cases
where women earn less than men doing the same research in the private
sector. But I have the impression that things are changing. European
companies are becoming more interested in fundamental research,
and there may be more investment.”