Lucie Delemotte is an Associate Professor of Biophysics at the Department of Applied Physics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.
During high school, Lucie was not so clear as to which career path she wanted to choose. She had many interests going from psychology to languages, to maths and science. Initially Lucie chose a curriculum in business, thinking it would be a nice bridge between her love of maths and languages. But she struggled with the shakiness of what she was learning. Lucie mentions that many things did not make logical sense to her and what she was leanrning, especially in economics seemed to be solely based on artificial construction by humans. That is when she decided to move to science, because she wanted to learn facts. Lucie started off with biology, since the study of life seemed interesting. Soon she followed that by a shift to chemistry where she loved the fact that she had control over variables, such as experiments and calculations. Another thing Lucie loved about chemistry was the fact that she was not expected to learn a lot by heart like in biology. This why Lucie holds a Bachelors in Chemistry from the Université de Lorraine, France. She built upon that by studying a Masters in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry. Luckily, Lucie found several inspirational teachers, especially in theoretical and computational chemistry. That's when she decided to dig deeper into the topic and go for a PhD. When Lucie met her PhD supervisor, she discovered it was possible to study biological systems using the mathematical methods from computational chemistry. After hearing about this combination of topics, Lucie got hooked to the world of biophysics.
At the moment, Lucie works a lot with understanding how membrane proteins work. “They are the molecules that make it possible for biological cells to communicate with the outside world. We look at them with simulation methods that allow us to scrutinize them with an atomic level of description. When we understand how they work, we can find ways to modify their function to make them work better or differently. For example, these proteins can be at the basis of epilepsies when they overwork, because for example of genetic mutations. We can design drugs that reduce their activity. For drugs to work well we need to see what they do at a molecular level, and this is what our simulations can reveal.” Lucie is also a group leader of a research group that uses molecular dynamics simulations to understand how biological systems function. Along with the research Lucie also teaches the university students within her discipline.
STEM to Lucie means “a solid basis to navigate the world”. Lucie mentions that her favorite is the idea that scientific results can be reproduced, it gives a sense of safety in a really complex world. Lucie also mentions that she never felt like things were not possible while growing up, but she had no idea that so many opportunities existed. She grew up being exposed to many experiences ranging from going to museums, gardening, playing music, being outdoors, trying out different sports. Lucie never dreamt of being a university professor, but she feels extremely blessed to be working in such an exciting and important field.
If there were certain changes that Lucie could make to make life easier for the women in STEM, then she would make the following changes:
1) A generally more accepting system, not only of women but of different walks of life (ethnicity, social and geographical background, personalities and neurotypes, gender expressions and all possible dimensions of diversity)
2) While this is not in place, numbers matter a lot and Lucie has found that having spaces/events where women can share their experiences is very important, so we can recognize each other, be comfortable, and find ways to make STEM more inclusive.
But to encourage more girls to join STEM, Lucie believes that luckily more and more girls are joining STEM fields every year. This means that the existing efforts to expose girls to STEM are working! But Lucie thinks that an important thing is to to work on retention, that girls who come into STEM need to stay there and for it to be good for them! “One can easily be deterred of continuing because difficulties accumulate, one is often subject to microaggressions and alternative path appears more welcoming, especially for a girl/woman.” In principle STEM has the advantage to be based on facts, so it has a firm basis to be a good place for equality, but our system has been shaped by decades of a patriarchal society so there is still a lot of work needed to get there. Progress has been made, many have fought this battle before us and together with us. “I think we need to keep fighting to make STEM and academia kinder and more nurturing, while of course keeping a high level of rigor and excellence. Some say those two things are incompatible, but they are wrong, we can be constructively critical and kind towards doing the best science possible!”
Lastly, here are Lucie’s closing words of encouragement for young girls who want to join a STEM field:
“The ability to discover things, to see things before anyone else has, and to then share it with the world is fantastic. There is not much that beats that feeling. So it is worth all of the difficulties. If it become too unsustainable, with too many difficulties, there are many other things to do and an education in STEM will open many doors. Don't think of going into STEM as deciding against something else, instead of a way to learn about the beauty of the world and how we can act on it in good ways!”
You can contact Lucie Delemotte on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucie-delemotte-a2773840/
I thank Lucie Delemotte for taking part in this project and answering all the questions in a very informative manner. I hope, your experience and STEM story will inspire a young girl to join a STEM field and excel just like you have.