The right balance

Over the course of her career as a physicist, Felicitas Pauss, currently responsible for CERN's External Relations, has often been the sole woman in an environment dominated by men. While she freely admits that being a woman physicist can have as many advantages as disadvantages, she thinks the best strategy is to maintain the right balance.

From a very early age, Felicitas Pauss always wanted to be involved in projects that interested and fascinated her. That's how she came to study physics. When she was a first-year university student in Austria in 1970, it was still fairly uncommon for women to go into physics research. "I grew up in Salzburg with a background in music. At that time, it was certainly considered more ‘normal’ for a woman to study music than to do research in physics. But already in high school I was interested in physics and technical instruments and wanted to know how things work and what they are made of”.

At the beginning of her career, back in the mid 1970s, she was often more visible than her male colleagues, especially at conferences, where there were very few female participants. "Visibility was not necessarily an advantage”, she says. “What counted was the quality of my work and how I presented it. In science, it’s your expertise and the results you obtain that matter,not whether you're a man or a woman”.

Felicitas has faced different challenges throughout her career. Her motivation for accepting them is her curiosity and her willingness to take on new tasks. Performing high-quality work has always been her guiding principle.

In large collaborations, along with specific competencies, soft skills including the ability to work well together in a team are also needed to ensure that the different tasks are carried out in an effective way,. “I like to compare working in a collaboration to playing in a large orchestra: each member has to play his or her instrument to a high standard, but the quality of the concert also depends on how well the musicians play together. And this has nothing to do with whether you’re a man or a woman – like in our big collaborations”.

Today Felicitas has important responsibilities, requiring her to travel: "I like to communicate the fascination of the research we are carrying out at CERN. Particle physics experiments have become a truly global scientific undertaking, uniting male and female scientists from different countries and cultures. It is a privilege for me to be part of this team”.


by CERN Bulletin