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Biopôle Women in Sciences Series

Interview with Nouria Hernandez, Professor and Rector at University of Lausanne

February 11th was the International Day of Women and Girls in Sciences. Biopôle celebrated this day by interviewing women members of the campus who succeeded in their scientific career.

Here is the interview with Nouria Hernandez, Professor and Rector at University of Lausanne.


What are you currently working on?

Right now, I am the rector of my university, so I am not doing much research. But before that, I worked on gene expression, the study of what controls whether a gene is read or not read, and I studied which molecules are involved in the process of reading a gene, in other words, using the DNA as a template to synthesise an RNA molecule.


Which job challenges are you about to face in the upcoming months?

How to continue steering a university during COVID... The difficulty is that everybody is, or I should say many people are, getting tired of the situation. For students, it is difficult to stay motivated and to continue following classes online. We have to realise that for many of them, especially the first-year students, they have not had time to get to know other students and to build study groups, for example. Under these conditions, studying, which is a very challenging endeavour to begin with, becomes even more difficult. It is also difficult for professors. Many have the very frustrating feeling that they aren’t teaching as well as they could teach the ‘normal’ way. And for all the people involved in running any entity at the university, there is the considerable challenge of having to change the rules very often and of having to convince people to accept the new rules.


Who is your role model in science?

I admire scientists who are passionate about their research, who are passionate about pushing the limits of knowledge, and who are generous with their students. By generous, I mean willing to take the time to share their knowledge and the passion they have for their subject of research with their students, and also generous with their recognition of the contributions of others – including, and perhaps most importantly, the contributions of their students.


What is your wish for the younger generation of girls dreaming of working in STEM? 

I wish for them not to be intimidated! When I was a student in high school, I was the only girl taking optional computer programming classes, and other students commented on it. I think we are well past this, but we are still short of role models. So young girls and young women still need to be encouraged to pursue work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If you type ‘women mathematicians’ into Google, you will find all kinds of lists of women who have contributed important discoveries in mathematics. Maths teachers could mention some of them in their classes!