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Francesca Paradisi

Sustainable Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Bern, Switzerland


Renowned chemist and Chair of Sustainable Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Bern, Francesca Paradisi focuses her research activity on enzymology, with a particular interest in process intensification, to align academic research more closely with industrial needs. As Francesca told us, the importance of supportive infrastructure to balance academic careers with family responsibilities is one of the key challenges in making scientific fields more inclusive for women. Without a doubt, her biggest success is represented by mentoring young scientists who contribute to scientific advancements.


Brief intro, your background (education/research) and briefly mention your research area (why did you choose to orient your research towards process intensification?)

I am a chemist. I studied at the University of Bologna until my PhD in Organic Chemistry. Then I moved to the field of enzymology for my postdoc, and that’s where I stayed for the rest of my academic career and until now. I did my post-doc at the University of Dublin, where I also got my first academic position. In 2019, I became full professor in Nottingham but, shortly after, I moved to Switzerland, where I was offered the Chair of Sustainable Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department at the University of Bern.

I am very keen on the enzymology research field because it is moving more and more toward process intensification. We are getting much closer to what the industry requirements may also be, bridging the gap between what would have been before limited to the academic field and the effective needs for industrial applications.

What challenges do you face / what do you see as the challenges and barriers to making engineering/applied chemistry more inclusive for female academics/engineers?

The major challenge is to infuse interest early on within female students because the loss of female academics starts early on due to different reasons, mostly family choices. In some cases, there is the perception that an academic career is incompatible with raising a family, so the major challenge is to make this a little bit more normal. Another major challenge is the development of infrastructure able to meet the needs of women in academia. Just a quick episode: when I was in Dublin, I had two young children, and Dublin was extremely proactive in having no meeting before 10 a.m. or after 4 a.m. to facilitate the drop-off and pick-up of the children. However, the big problem was that, if I arrived at UCD at 10, there would be no parking space, thus preventing me from doing that. So, there was a very good intention to put a framework around the working hours, but there was the necessity to combine it with suitable facilities.

What advice would you give to your younger self as an early career woman embarking on a career in academia and in chemistry/chemical biology (chemical engineering)?

The advice that I would give to my younger self is “keep on your path." Very often, in an academic career, you have the feeling you don’t see the path forward. Questions like “What will I do next?" “What if I don’t find my path afterwards?" and “Is it worth doing a postdoc for another year?” are very frequent. During my career, I switched from organic chemistry to enzymology, and I remember very well that my professor, during my postdoc, after three years that I was working in his group, told me to be careful because while I was improving my knowledge in a new field (biochemistry), I was risking losing touch with the chemistry field. Despite that being extremely frightening, the field of chemical biology started becoming much more appealing for departments and universities, and I just happened to have the opportunity to grow in this interdisciplinary field.

So, I would really advise my younger self to not have doubts. Having a plan B is always a good idea, but just don't doubt yourself; do what you enjoy doing and learn what you enjoy learning rather than narrowing your field too soon and thinking that will give you more options.

From a personal perspective, what achievement (or achievements) are you most proud of in terms of your work or career?

Without a doubt, I am most proud of the young scientists that I have trained up until today. I could also talk to you about specific scientific achievements, but I did not do those by myself; it is my team that has always believed in the research that we were doing, putting exceptional efforts into realizing what would start as very tiny ideas without well-defined borders, and developing them into what has become something very successful.

So, my greatest achievement is having engaged with excellent young scientists that have helped in delivering and developing the research that we are doing.

Interview with Prof Francesca Paradisi