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The scientists who inspired us (XII): Mothers in science

In honour of Women in Science, at the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics - BCAM we have come up with the idea of sharing some stories about the women that inspired our researchers to pursue a career in science. Keep reading to understand why Nicole Cusimano claims the importance of mothers in science and how they inspired her:

About the author:

Nicole Cusimano

Postdoc Fellow


After graduating in mathematics at the University of Trieste in 2010, I moved to Australia for what I thought was going to be a 1-year masters overseas. I fell in love with the place, the people, and my work, my masters became a PhD and, after obtaining my doctorate in applied mathematics at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane in 2015, I worked for a year as postdoc at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers in the same city. In 2016 I came back to Europe, moved to Bilbao, and started my career at BCAM where to this day I hold a postdoctoral position in the research area “Mathematical Models with Multidisciplinary Applications”
When I was asked to think of a woman (or some women) in science who had been an inspiration for me, I started thinking of myself growing up, of the (very limited) vision I had of science and maths up to 20 or even 15 years ago, and could not come up with anyone in particular whom I saw as a true inspiration. Sure, I knew of some famous female scientists, and I had always looked at them with admiration, but in a way it was a distant admiration, not something that I felt had a direct impact on my personal life. However, in the last decade things have surely changed.

Ten years ago I moved to a different country, on the other side of the world, and began a masters in Applied Mathematics that eventually became my PhD. I started learning about the “world” of scientific research (to which I essentially had not had any previous exposure) and got to know a very different way of doing science with respect to what I had experienced growing up. In the years that followed, I attended conferences, workshops, meetings, visited institutions in various countries around the world, and changed once more country of residence to keep pursuing my scientific career. Although my personal experience is far from the ones of the most mobile researchers and proactive promoters of their scientific work, over the years I have had the chance to meet in person many female scientists at various stages of (life and) their professional careers. While with some of them I have had only brief encounters and exchanged relatively general conversations, I have collaborated, shared office, drank coffee, had lunch, and spent a lot of time inside and outside of work with many others, some of whom I consider myself very lucky to be able to call true friends.

I have met some very young girls with great dreams and loads of passion; some PhD students with fantastic projects and a great support network, and some others dealing with “far from ideal” circumstances but always working extremely hard to do their best; older postdocs having found their true calling and quickly advancing towards a successful research life in well-established institutions, and others still trying to find the best way to survive as researchers in a highly competitive professional world, where being content with holding a postdoc position is just not an option; and last but not least I have met amazing female professors and leading scientists whom have fought hard to be where they are, and in the vast majority of cases are just as humble and hard working as they were when they started their journey.

All these people did have an impact on me. However, I must admit that out of all the women in science I have met, whatever the stage in their professional path, there is a particular category that I especially admire and of which I have grown even fonder in the last two years: mother scientists. While there are undeniable challenges for all genders in merging a professional scientific career with their personal life (especially the need to move between institutions, cities, and even countries to build a strong research profile with the desire of stability and building a family), I really believe that women have it particularly hard in this department. To all women scientists who are mothers, who have put incredible amounts of energy and time in their research (performing tests, writing papers, getting grants, etc.) while also being able to raise beautifully happy children, and who seem so effortlessly able to be absolutely great at everything: you are my heroes! But even if you did not get as far in your professional career as you would have liked to, and decided to take a step back to ensure your family came first, you have all my respect. Being a researcher is surely not easy and being a mother is no joke either. I am incredibly lucky to have a fabulous mother to look up to and even if she is no scientist, that woman is probably my biggest inspiration of all.