BLOG: And that’s two abstracts sent in over a day before the deadline!

The French version of “Let It Go” is “Libérée, délivrée” which more or less translates to “I’ve been freed/become free” rather than “let it go” and I am currently singing that song in my head. Actually, I shall put it on Spotify because I am not a good singer, even in my head.

I am currently singing that song because I submitted two abstracts to two conferences a few minutes ago – a whole day and a bit before the deadline! One is about innovation pathways based on a systems approach applied to the Finnish bioeconomy and the other about taking into account consumer behaviour in the development of bioeconomy products. I have good hope to have the first one accepted but the second one is a bit of a long shot – more popular conference, not my main field of study, but let’s see!

In any case, I am quite glad to have that off my plate as I agonised hours, if not full days, over those short texts. Even on days when I was not working on them, they still sat at the back of my head. Now I am that little bit lighter and I hope to carry that feeling of accomplishment that I am feeling right now till at least this weekend (we’re only Wednesday though). I am not even freaking out about the fact that the whole work email system is down and has been down since this morning! I am not feeling that impostor syndrome all that much! I shall sleep so well tonight!

 

BLOG: “C’est pas sorcier” and Jamy the other science guy

This week the ComSciComCa twitter account reminded me of one of my favourite shows while growing up – C’est Pas Sorcier. Imagine that Bill Nye science program from the 90s meeting the early Mythbusters series… but in French and all set in the back of a large truck. Ah! Jamy, Fred, Sabine and “la petite voix”! Oh, and they also sometimes covered history and geography and other non-science subjects.

All the science bits from episodes that aired from the mid-90s till 2014 have been made available online to further share the joy and nostalgia. I promised myself that I’d have that in the background during the weekend but it was never the right time to be watching something, even in the background… such a good opportunity to marathon the heck out of those episodes gone!

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Of course no science teacher ever had us watch C’est Pas Sorcier in class but we did have a history/geography teacher who used an episode or two of Le Dessous Des Cartes in class – another brilliant show!

Q&A: What’s one cool location in Helsinki? (Malminkartanonhuippu edition)

First of all, Malminkartanonhuippu should be mentioned just for the name alone – thank goodness that all letters are pronounced in Finnish so there is usually no need to guess how to say things. Standing at 90m above sea level, it’s the highest point in Helsinki and that has always been rather interesting to me because I grew up in a house on what I consider to be “a small hill” and it stands at 160m above sea level. I know that Finland is a rather flat country but things like this remind me just how flat it is.

Malminkartano Hill is also interesting because it was a municipal construction waste landfill up until the mid-90s… and now it’s a hill where you can nicely train for races like the Marseille-Cassis that require a lot of uphill running. The only downside is that it is quite a hassle to get all the way  there, even if there is a metro stop not too far away. Still, along with Hietaniemi (Hietsu) beach, it’s definitely up there on my list of favourite man-made Helsinki landscape features.

Q&A: What’s the weather like in Finland? (February/March 2018)

This year we’re having a rather cold end of winter, with some nights as cold as -20C in the city center, with loads of wind making it feel much colder. Earlier we had some decent snowfalls although the snow was on and off the ground up until around mid-January. As an example, we had a day where the snowfall was such that it was difficult to walk in the streets but the next day there was almost nothing left because it had rained overnight.

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Of course, more than the weather, it’s the darkness that characterises winter here. I like to joke that on an average December day, the only reason you know it’s “day” it’s because it’s dark grey outside instead of being pitch black… and even that only happens for a few hours. More than just the shortness of days in winter, I find it very difficult to keep a positive attitude during the months of October and November – the days aren’t that short yet but you can visibly see that they are getting shorter and you start anticipating the full-on darkness and bad weather to come. Everything goes back to normal in my head in February – it’s the coldest month but it’s when days get visibly longer and there usually are only blue skies (hence the cold) and it’s time to bring out sunglasses as not to get hurt by the glare from the snow.

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Q&A: Did you always want to be a scientist?

Nope! Indeed, I am not one of those people who dreamed of being a scientist or researcher as a child or a teenager!

Aged 8 or so I wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer, both seemed to be doing important work and earned a decent living (or so I thought). I guess work-life balance was not a real priority at that age.

Aged 12 I decided that being a doctor meant I could hurt people by making a simple mistake so I settled on being a forensic pathologist, can’t hurt people if they’re already dead — I did not realise that both a degree in medicine and law are required to be a certified “médecin légiste”. My backup plan was being an artist, a painter specifically. I quite liked watercolours and thought I was decent at it (based on a few pieces I produced in school – two of which still hang in my parents’ hallway).

Aged 15 I started hearing more and more that I would make a good engineer because I was good at maths and physics. Little did everyone know that I seemed good at those subjects because I figured out from an early age that the faster I finished my homework, the faster I could have free time. I was all about gaming the system (and gaming in general, I was all about perfecting my Tomb Raider and Myst playthroughs). Here again I had a backup plan — film director or potentially screen writer. I was horrendous (and still am) at writing anything that requires any type of plot line so I figured that being a film director might be easier. My teenage brain was a wonderfully confused place.

Aged 17, having finished “lycée” and successfully passed my final exams, I moved on to a “classe prépa” — intense studying for two years, no diploma but the possibility of passing exams to get into a fancy school (or any school that would have me, really). At this stage I started developing my life philosophy of “path of least resistance that will still get me somewhere”. Following all the previous engineering talk, a “classe prépa” was a decent choice and finishing a prépa followed by a random engineering school seemed to have better prospects than most French university courses. I literally had no end goal, I had no dreams, I was the perfect picture of a stereotypical apathetic teenager. But I survived those two years. I can’t remember now but I don’t think I even took the entrance exams to the top ranked schools, just the ones for the lower tier ones.

Aged 19, in a mechanical engineering school specialising in car design, I figured I’d continue on my path of least resistance streak and be a good ol’ designer of mechanical parts for cars or something of the sort. We heard the stories of some person who spent 30 years perfecting the design of the 3rd gear for one of the big French manufacturers — that sounded like it could do as a career. Maybe I wouldn’t specialise in gear design, I’ve had enough of 3D modelling those, but another part of a car.

Aged 22 was the start of a revelation. Picture this, second year of engineering school, six months of which we had to spend as an intern somewhere and write up a report and all that. You don’t have that many car design internships out there so the internship I landed was as part of an R&D team (team made up of one guy working full time, another about to retire and an intern) for a small plastic packaging company in the middle of nowhere close to the French Alps. My job was twofold — background research and design idea generation for a new trigger spray mechanism and being the stand-in tester for any products aimed at children. Who needs to go to the gym when you can spend long days trying out different models of squeeze bottles! At least now I know how those leak-proof valves work and how much each valve costs and that different parts of the world have different preferences in terms of ketchup texture. I should mention that having previously only lived in huge cities, I also learned that which boulangerie you buy bread in (500 inhabitants in town, 2 boulangeries) is borderline a political choice in a small town. The main outcome of this R&D stint was that I discovered that applied research was interesting!

Aged 23, first week of classes, the revelation continued! The main teacher said that there was a possibility to go for a M.Sc. on top of our expected engineering diploma by filing some extra papers and attending a few more classes and going for an internship in a research lab and then… wait for it… we could continue on to a PhD where we would be required to write a book (with an ISBN and all!) and that would probably be the only opportunity we’d get to publish a book and be sure that at least someone read it. I was sold! I had discovered my love for research a few months prior but I, honest to whatever research gods there might be, started on the path to an M.Sc because I was told that it might lead to a PhD and that would probably be the only time I’d get to write a book (with an ISBN!!!) and have someone read it. To the failed literature student that I was (I barely passed, and sometimes also failed, most of my literature and humanities classes) this was the Holy Grail. Come February we had to find another internship and someone gave me the details of one in a research lab in Finland. And that’s how I ended up switching from the Mediterranean to the Baltic coast in March, with all my skiing clothes in tow. I was definitely slowly moving towards becoming a researcher…

Aged 24 to 27 I started incorporating more and more environmental issues into my work. Designing cars is great but it’s also important to try and work on helping sort out the whole planet destruction problem. I published some, I taught some classes, I spent six months living off energy drinks and candy while writing the intro section to my thesis (article compilation, thank goodness, because I don’t think I would have ever survived writing a monograph) — I would not recommend that diet but it worked!

But wait, this is not the end of the story of how I settled into being a “proper” researcher specialising in sustainability issues!

Aged 27, PhD in hand (and a book with an ISBN!!!), I was at a loss as to what I wanted to do. And when I say, “at a loss”, I mean I spent six months literally doing absolutely nothing, then a few months travelling around a bit while telling myself that I’ll start looking for a job at the year mark from when I got my diploma. Life did not want me to stay idle that long though because I got a message about a (kinda) postdoc job opportunity about ten months in. I had applied months before and got put into a database and the title of my thesis contained keywords that were of interest to them. It wasn’t research as I had imagined it, there would be no journal publications, but it would be a really great line on my CV and, while I still had some savings left, the pay was good and I got to move to a new country. I was now a non-academia researcher!

Now, aged 32, I recently moved on from that job, back to research that’s mainly measured in how much funding you can bring in and the impact factor of the journals you publish in. My area of research is so far removed from what I did ten years ago and absolutely does not correspond to anything to anything I thought I’d ever be doing ten years ago. Am I going to stay in research? Who knows! I still like to think that when the European Space Agency opens the next call for astronauts I won’t be too old to apply. I definitely did not want to be an astronaut when I was little but I’d give anything to be one today!

Q&A: What do you eat for breakfast in Finland?

There is what I eat and probably what many others eat – I only have coffee with full fat cream in the morning before work. At work I’ll have some almonds or some fruit, maybe a yogurt. I’ve just never been a breakfast person!

That said, there are plenty of great breakfast food options around here though – for example, there are many types of porridge available, you can even get porridge at the cafeteria downstairs! You can garnish it with jam, berries or other fruit and it’s really nice and filling. Sometimes I’ll make myself rye porridge and flavour it with some broth, it’s the perfect thing to eat after a cold walk outside. Continuing on breakfast foods, of course you can have a small sandwich made of rye bread with some butter, maybe a slice of cheese and tomatoes. There are also plenty of sweet pastries that you can choose from, cinnamon ones or doughnut like or some with sweet cheese.

Coffee is also very important. Finland inevitably ends up in the top countries of coffee consumption per capita. It’s not always good coffee but it’s an essential part of the Finnish diet for sure.

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BLOG: About that cricket bread

A simple search for “Finland + cricket + bread” will tell you all about Fazer’s cricket bread so I’ll just give you a personal take on it here.

First of all, it’s not available in every shop but I live and shop in the city centre of Helsinki so there are shops that carry it – hooray for that! First hurdle overcome! The second hurdle were other people who also wanted to try the cricket bread and kept on buying it before I could get my hands on some. Eventually the frenzy died down and there came a day when some bread was left at the time when I go shopping after work. Second hurdle overcome! I had cricket bread, for 3€ and a bit for a loaf. (Side note: now that the craziness of the first days is gone, there is always some available.)

The packing looks quite normal – a bit of green, a little cricket on there. The ingredients of course tell you that it’s not 100% cricket, it’s different kinds of flour, including 3% of flour made of ground crickets. That said, 3% is already a good start in terms of adding protein that have great potential to contribute to sustainability.

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Now for the taste – it tastes like regular mixed-flour bread. I’m not exactly the best person to try and describe what makes bread good, I generally don’t even eat that much bread… but I can tell when a baguette is good or bad (I have strong opinions on which boulangerie makes the best baguette) and know that not all rye bread is good. I could not taste anything strange, there weren’t any bits of insects that would add extra crunch. It was just regular bread, which is exactly what I think they are going for and should be going for – they want to show that there is nothing different and can be easily accepted by the population. Heck, I’d argue that taste-wise this is easier for people to get used to than non-dairy milk/yogurt alternatives and we’ve seen those soar in recent years.

My conclusion is that I hope that the trend of including insect-based proteins in “normal” (=non-gimmicky-omg-look-I’m-eating-an-insect) food will continue. This bread has the backing of Fazer and they’re a multi-billion € company, they can hopefully develop a sustainable supply chain for insect proteins that can be readily used in food.

Q&A: When you were a little kid, did you recycle?

For the sake of this question, let’s define my being a “kid” as me between the ages of 3 to around 12. You know, no longer a toddler but not quite a teenager… and using this definition we can cover my childhood in three different countries and three different eras.

So we have the USSR era in the mid to late-80s. We have the early 90s in France and then we have the mid-90s in the US.

Let’s be honest though – my memory is spotty for all those early years because, you know, infant, toddler, child. And, of course, one’s approaches to waste management is not something that one tends to remember specifically, at best it’s the habits formed at an early age that stick.

So, first era – the 80s in the USSR. My main memories of waste management at that time were of repair and reuse (in the city) with a side of composting/feeding to the animals (in the countryside). I do know that recycling was in place for paper and glass, there were even jokes about it – like the one about a mother commenting, “what would our children eat if Father didn’t drink?” Soviet humour is brilliantly dark. The joke of course is that you could bring back glass bottles and get a deposit back and feed the children with that since your husband spent all his pay on alcohol (contained in glass bottles). You’d also get money back for the newspapers you brought back, by weight I believe. How much plastic did we have back in the day? I honestly can’t remember. Cans were something completely foreign also (often literally brought from foreign countries) – an anecdote my parents told me is that a friend of my father’s used a Coke can as a pencil holder on his desk, it was the height of sophistication.

Second era, early 90s in France. I have absolutely no recollection of anything having to do with waste management from this era. What did we even do with the general waste? Did our building have trash containers that were taken out at night? Did the city provide any type of container for recyclables? Did those big green containers with the round openings for glass exist already? I have absolutely no clue. I certainly did not care about any of it and I don’t recall ever being taught anything related to waste management in school. I can’t even pinpoint what we did learn in science class – did we even have science class in elementary school? Surely we must have!

Third era, mid-90s in the US and there I remember having a blue bin for recyclables. What could be put in there? Plastic only or also paper and glass? Did I actively put things in the recycling bin? No idea!

In conclusion, recycling was not a priority for me as a child. That said, I was a kid a rather long time ago… and we weren’t taught those things, a shame! (I must point out that the whole composting/feeding (safe) scraps to the animals is basically innate behaviour and the only reason I would ever get a house is so that I could have a garden where to have my own compost pile (and a dog, potentially a cat, and maybe some chicken)).

Q&A: What’s your favourite food?

My favourite food is my mum’s boeuf bourguignon. It’s one of those foods that takes quite a bit of preparation and I would never cook it just for myself and my mum knows that. The thing is, you have to remember my mum did not grow up in France, she did not grow up with French cuisine… and yet she’s perfected this dish in a way that makes all other boeuf bourguignon absolutely impossible to eat.

I’ve never tried to replicate her recipe but essentially it requires good beef cut into small(ish) dice, lardons (bacon-like bits), diced onion, wine and some spices (probably). Then it’s all about marinading the beef in the wine along with the onions, then removing the meat from the wine and browning it, then cooking everything in the wine.

In terms of foods I like to cook myself, I’d say my pea soup is rather good. I also like making homemade pizza because I love the process of making pizza dough (I keep a yeast culture in my fridge because you never know when you’ll want to make bread or pizza).

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Q&A: What was your favourite subject in school?

I don’t remember really having a favourite subject during my early school days, although I clearly remember disliking having to learn poetry by heart and then having to recite it.

In middle school I had an amazing science teacher in 7th and 8th grade – she always had pretty cool experiments to show us. I actually have such fond memories of the Science Olympiad – I took part in those for two years and I remember working on the egg drop, on a rubber band powered car (or was it a plane?), on something that required me to learn loads about waterways and, of course, the best event of them all – “Surfing the Net”. I think the event only lasted for a couple of years, probably from when Internet connections became more or less reliable in the mid-90s till Google actually figured out how to index things well. I used AskJeeves… got 2nd place my second year.

I guess I should also mention art class in middle school – at least one or two of my creations still hang in my parents’ house.

In high school I really liked chemistry because we got to play around with chemicals from time to time (hooray for fake banana smell!) and stocheometry and I have always gotten along amazingly well. I also quite liked Spanish class because the teacher was realy nice and motivating – always telling me to try my best even though I wasn’t really good at Spanish… to the point where I, more or less, had to start from scratch when I eventually moved to Spain.

As part of my doctoral studies I got to participate in a really neat year-long class that gave us the opportunity to meet and work with doctoral students specialised in completely different fields (e.g. business, law, biology, mechanical engineering) and it was an eye opening experience. We had completely different ways of writing articles and building up bibliographies because different fields tend to have different practices. The points we considered as essential were also completely different.

Q&A: Have you ever seen/been to the Eiffel tower?

I have seen the Eiffel tower many times but I must admit that I’ve only been up to the top once, in the early 90s. It’s the same for the Chateau d’If, I’ve only ever been there once with a couple of friends who came to Marseille as tourists. Actually it’s the same with the majority of big landmarks – Notre Dame de la Garde, Notre Dame de Paris, the White Church in Helsinki, etc. The only touristy spots I do tend to go back to are those related to nature, for example I consider the calanques to be my backyard (photo from the calanques below), I like going for a run in Seurasaari because it’s a nice 3km loop and I’ve been known to hop on the boat to Suomenlinna just to walk around there a bit.

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Q&A: What’s your favourite hobby?

This is the part where I feel like I should write that my hobbies include reading serious non-fiction books and growing my collection of succulents. In reality I do like reading, although I tend to stick to not very serious non-fiction (crazy conspiracy theory books are amazing – I am reading one about how owls are apparently stand-ins for aliens/UFOs) and low-brow fiction. I am terrible at any type of gardening and find it an extremely frustrating endeavor.

Generally speaking, I like going out for a casual jog, followed by a long walk while catching up on podcasts. I have a standing “skype date” with some peeps during times I know I’ll be outside walking – a great way to breathe in some fresh air, get some exercice and catch up with everyone. When the weather allows it I love going hiking, especially in the calanques close to Marseille.

What often happens is that I get bouts of inspiration for certain activities and then focus on them for a few weeks before stopping for months.

  • Sometimes I’ll decide to play video games before either growing bored or rage quitting. I have rage quit Minecraft way too many times… stupid Sky Factory doesn’t know my finger slipped from the shift key and now all my good stuff is gone!
  • I’ll go on baking and cooking sprees where there will be a different homemade pizza every single night for a week. Bread making is also one of those relaxing activities that I love but alas I don’t actually eat that much bread and there are only so many loafs that friends and acquaintances will accept before it gets weird.

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Q&A: Is there pollution in Helsinki/Finland?

Although I find that air quality is rather good in Finland, there still is pollution, especially close to industrial areas. You can check out the current situation on this website.

Overall, as Finland has a rather small population and many larger cities are located near the coast, I do not find pollution to be a big problem on most days. I definitely have visited places abroad where it was much harder for me to breathe and/or places where you could easily smell pollution. One example that will always stick with me was a visit to Shanghai where pollution levels were horrendously bad the week we visited and I spent the whole trip with horribly watery eyes and a sore throat.

The biggest issue I often encounter is pollen – my body absolutely cannot deal with local trees and flowers! As I like walking and running outside, spring can be extremely tough on my system…

 

BLOG: A running streak in winter seemed like a good idea three weeks ago

Three weeks ago I thought I’d give watching curling a chance and somehow I also decided to start a running streak. The two are absolutely unrelated except that they happened at about the same time. I watched about 10 minutes of curling and saw that they yell quite a lot and it gets old really fast – I switched over to luge/skeleton/bobsleigh events as they’re more stressful but much easier on the ears.

So yes, I gave up on curling after 10 minutes but I can gladly report that my running streak is still going after 20 days and, oh boy, have we had some interesting weather in those 20 days!

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The last time I attempted a running streak it was in September during my holidays in Montreal, that lasted a bit over a week. Before that, there was a 50+-day streak in May/June in Seville with temperatures staying in the 30Cs even during evening and night runs.

This time around I’ve had days with nights at -20C but that got up to -15C during the day, making the running a bit less harsh. I’ve had days with important snowfalls that thawed the next day, leaving a nice ice coating. I’ve had quite strong winds that would seemingly change direction right when I turned around to get back home. Many of the runs were done after work in the dark because the sun still sets early (I hate running on treadmills even more than I hate the cold, hence why I don’t go to a gym even though there is one 200m from my hours). But hey, let’s look on the bright side, I’m now practically certified in the art of layering for any type of temperatures! Five for when it gets below -12C, four if it’s above and it’s not windy.

Q&A: Why do you wake up before 6am? How do I become a morning person?

I’m almost 100% sure that I’ve always been a morning person and waking up before 6am is just something that my body does on its own. That said, I am also very much a person who loves routines and I wake up at the same time every single day, weekdays and weekends alike, so maybe that’s why I’m able to do it. Of course that means that I also make a point of going to bed at the same (early-ish) time every single day and I avoid social events that end late like the plague – even one night of going to bed late makes me tired for days on end. Yep, I am that one person everyone knows who leaves parties early!

Q&A: Why did you move to Finland?

The first time I moved to Finland was because I was offered an internship in a lab at the local university and I had never been there and didn’t know much about it – I thought it would be a great adventure ! (While I was paid a small amount for the internship, my parents helped out quite a lot – thank you, mum and dad!)

It would be an adventure and that was quite enough to convince me.

I had no idea what to expect. My sister and brother-in-law gave me a travel guide to Finland that I read on the plane. Some things mentioned in there were true (silences can be just silences, they don’t have to be awkward), some I have yet to encounter (swarms of large mosquitoes everywhere next to lakes). I learnt quite a bit about really living on my own (previously I had lived within 60km of my parents’, except for 6 months where I extended that range to 300km). I also saw that my personality actually meshed quite nicely with the average Finn – I liked being left alone, always having access to nature, enjoying spending loads of time outside when it’s warm. At that time I did have quite a lot of trouble with winter, the cold, the dark, the feeling that it will never end. It’s the winters that actually made me decide to try my luck elsewhere after five years.

The second time I moved to Finland, I did so right at the start of winter but, so far so good, I’m older and come armed with new coping mechanisms. I did mainly move because I accepted a job that sounded really interesting but I would never have applied for said job if I wasn’t fine with moving back to Helsinki. There is something about this place.

(sidenote: I have an EU passport so moving and working within the EU is really easy for me, I just needed to go get a Finnish ID number at the local town hall and register at the local immigration office. There would have been probably many more steps for people coming from outside the EU.)

Q&A: What’s your favourite colour?

I like orange because it’s a nice and happy colour – it’s also a colour that can be seen from far away so I tend to favour it for my running attire.

Otherwise I also like yellow although it is difficult to find good clothes in that colour that are not summer dresses or t-shirts.

Q&A: How did you choose which university to go to?

I would say that my choice of schools for higher education was pragmatic more than anything else – something that not too far from the family, affordable in terms of expenses (rent, etc.) and still decent from an academic point of view.

A little caveat – as I started my higher education in France I didn’t actually go to university at first but went to a “classe préparatoire” (two years of intense classes to prepare to take entrance exams to “grandes écoles”, engineering schools or other types of specialised schools) and then to an engineering school. There are obviously many universities in France but for some STEM fields their diplomas are not as highly regarded as those from specialised schools.

In any case, I can’t remember what the exact application process was back in 2003 but I do believe that you could submit your dossier to up to five prépas. In the end, I ended up getting accepted into the best local prépa (arguably in the top 2 or 3 of non-Parisian scientific prépas). It was a great choice because it allowed me to live at home during those two years where having six hours of chemistry class in a row or finishing at 8pm because of mock exams (after a very early start) was considered normal.

I chose which engineering school to go to based on which school would have me (based on a ranking of exam results), what courses were offered and location. In the end, I moved to a city about 60km from Marseille and attended a tiny school (each graduating class must have had around 30 students when most other schools had a minimum of 300) located right in the city center. It was great because all the students got to know each other rather well and I could still come home during the weekends (and bring back tupperware full of home cooked food for the week – I’m a good cook but I’ll never say no to my parents’ home cooked meals).

During this time I also had a few internships that progressively brought me further and further from home – first one in Marseille, second in France-Comté and third one in Finland. And once I was in Finland, continuing on to a PhD as part of the local research group was a no-brainer! It was a small research group, doctoral studies/programmes in Finland (at the time and maybe still today) left students with loads of freedom to pursue their interests and my supervisor was fine with me going for a double diploma with a French school (my idea was that this would help me get a job back in France later on).

Overall, looking back, I must say that I am rather happy with the choices I made for my higher education. I definitely was not ready to live on my own/far away from my family at 17 (or even 21) and there’s absolutely no shame in that! I guess going to a smaller school also helped me avoid getting overwhelmed by too many new people, new classes, new freedoms at once. I eventually learnt to embrace new experiences and academic freedom but it took me quite some time to figure out how to set my own deadlines and respect them!

Q&A: What’s your biggest accomplishment to date?

Personally, I consider that just finishing my PhD was a rather big accomplishment because it represents four years of work, some of those spent really wondering if I had what it took to finish it. Obviously the more I work on other projects, the more it all becomes just two pieces of paper (hooray for a double diploma, two pieces of paper instead of one) that are just sat there in a folder on the shelf.

From the point of view of what’s the one thing I’ve done that has contributed most to bettering the world (that’s kind of like an accomplishment, right?) – maybe those legislative texts we wrote and did background research for. They have an influence on a very specific subset of products (different kinds products falling under a certain ISO Type I ecolabel) but all tiny bits add up to bigger bits and add up to even bigger bits. Eventually, in a couple of years, someone will rework those legislative texts to make them better but they’ll build up on the work we did.

I think that in research, especially sustainability research, it’s important to remember that most of the biggest achievements you hear about come after years and years of tiny incremental steps and are the result of work by tons of individuals. There are many stories of people inventing seemingly identical things at seemingly the same time in different parts of the world (and often only one getting the credit for it) and that’s due to the fact that radical changes and inventions are built on top of mundane work that eventually adds to something that’s thought to be radically new. So while I haven’t accomplished anything yet that’s life changing, I hope that somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve contributed to something that one day will turn out to be important.

Q&A: Do you have any siblings?

I do, I have an amazing older sister! I probably should say “amazing long-suffering older sister” because I was that annoying younger sibling, the one that tried to emulate everything the older one did!

She is currently an awesome engineer, working on things I do not fully understand but that sound cool and important. Although we both trained to become engineers, we went to completely different schools (hers was specialised more in airplane design and mine in car design) and chose to have quite different careers.