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A 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 innovative potential.

Dr Paola Arimondo“If 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 France.”

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.

Personal evolution
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.”

last update: 14-06-2004