CERN, an Invaluable Asset for Humanity – Interview with the Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti

Fabiola Gianotti is an Italian physicist and the first woman appointed by the CERN Council as the Director-General of the Laboratory. She took office on January 1st, 2016. The two Vice-Presidents of the Staff Association (SA) met with her to discuss the current affairs of the Organization.

Appointment as D-G and ambitions for CERN

As a former member of the personnel in the Physics department of CERN, Fabiola Gianotti has a long history with the Organization, and her vast in-house experience was likely a key factor in her appointment as the Director-General. Indeed, her in-depth knowledge of CERN and its functioning, as well as the current and future challenges of the Organization, are indispensable assets in guiding her ambitions for the Laboratory. Among her greatest aspirations for CERN, she names the increase of scientific excellence in the field of experimental research, development of cutting-edge technologies, education of younger generations, and collaborations with scientists from all over the world. To reach these ambitious goals, our Director must go beyond continuing current projects, and prepare for the future of the Organization after the LHC, towards the horizon of 2035.

Personnel of CERN

Our Director-General considers the personnel as the most valuable resource of the Organization. Without the competence and the commitment of the personnel in all professional categories, CERN would not be what it is today. “You can feel how genuinely passionate the members of the personnel are,” she says. The Director finds it therefore essential to keep the personnel motivated and to encourage their indispensable enthusiasm, which shows a particular sense of attachment and belonging to the Organization.

2015 Five-Yearly Review: meeting the expectations of personnel regarding motivation and career structures

2016 is a crucial year for the implementation of the new career structure. For our Director, it is important that the CERN Management and the Staff Association work together to ensure successful implementation although the progress should not stop there. Indeed, efforts must be made to inspire motivation among the personnel by working on important themes, such as the internal mobility and the validation of skills acquired through experience (V.A.E, validation des acquis de l’expérience). Transfer between groups, units and departments must be made easier for the personnel. All too often, internal mobility is negatively perceived, when it should really be regarded as a part of the prosperity of the Organization. To this end, we need a cultural change but also a thorough understanding of our needs and our resources.

External revision of the Organization’s resources

The new Management has entrusted an external committee with the task of reviewing the resources of the Organization, especially in terms of human resources. The committee started their work in mid-April and should give an oral report at the turn of September–October 2016. The Director considers that it is always interesting to have an external analysis of the functioning of the Organization.

Contract Policy

Regarding the Contract Policy, the Director is convinced that CERN is severely constrained by the fixed quota of approximately 2 250 ‘staff members’. Indeed, the number of staff members has remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years, whereas the number of associated members has continued to increase, which, however, is a positive development. When this concern is coupled with increasingly complex projects and a demographic issue, it can only be stated that the situation is very difficult to manage for the existing personnel of CERN. It is thus important to keep the CERN Council well-informed and involved in seeking ways to provide greater flexibility in managing and attributing contracts (LD-IC). The Director considers that it is Council’s role to help CERN.

The Staff Association from the perspective of an employed member of the personnel (MPE)

As a prior member of the personnel, the Director has always followed the activities and work of the Staff Association with great interest, be it from the social or the cultural point of view.

For instance, the Nursery school “EVEE” of the Staff Association is a great benefit for the community of CERN, and as such a service that the Director supports. It is therefore absolutely necessary that the Nursery school remains sustainable and even expands in the future.

Moreover, the exhibitions, conferences, clubs, and other activities organized by the Staff Association are of great importance to the Laboratory. They provide opportunities for the personnel to exchange, to share, and to integrate.

Contractor’s personnel (ENT) and social conditions

It is crucial to ensure that the selection criteria of contractors is not only economic, but also consistent with sufficient social and financial conditions.

CERN – Center for innovations

When asked about her vision on innovation, the Director declares: “My dream is to put CERN at the forefront of advancements, not only in physics, but also in terms of environment, education and collaborations. One topic that I am particularly concerned about is the situation of people with disabilities. Giving equal opportunities for everyone is important, and it is thus indispensable to ensure that appropriate infrastructure is in place. Lastly, it is crucial that we keep looking for opportunities for improvement, so that CERN can be an example in the world.”

Security and risk of attacks

Necessary measures must be taken to guarantee the safety of people present on the site of the Organization. Strengthening the security control system at the entry points to CERN site is a part of actions already taken, along with the review of our fences, installation of surveillance cameras and compulsory wearing of identification cards on site. Nevertheless, CERN must remain a Laboratory open for collaborations and for sharing knowledge and expertise.

Closing remarks

Fabiola Gianotti sees CERN as an invaluable asset for humanity, an organization, which must remain an example for present and future generations.

The Director and the Vice-Presidents of the Staff Association concluded the interview with a promise to revisit important issues before the end of the year.

The Vice-Presidents, on behalf of the Staff Association, would like to take this opportunity to thank Fabiola Gianotti for the cordial welcome that they have received.


by Staff Association