siaa_logo_blue Maria Lugaro lugaro_circle

Monash University

Melbourne, Australia
Job Title:Research Fellow


She is an Astronomer: How long is it since you got your PhD?

Maria Lugaro: 7 years, and no permament position yet!

I was born in Turin, Italy, where I graduated in Physics in 1996. My physics studies were mostly theoretical, covering very diverse topics from relativity, to quantum physics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics. However, my masters thesis was already on the topic of theoretical nuclear astrophysicist, the same field that I am working on now, 13 years later.

A more personal reason that drove me to becoming an astrophysicist has been the opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the world. After Italy, I moved to Monash University (Australia) in 1997 to study for my doctorate degree. Then, I worked as a post-doctoral fellow for 3 years in Cambridge (UK) and for another 3 years in Utrecht (The Netherlands), before returning to Monash in 2008 to take up a Monash Research Fellowship. To move overseas and experience life in different countries has always been a special and wonderful adventure.


SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?

ML: As a young student in Italy I was not aware of gender balance issues in astronomy as many women study science in Italy. However, living in different countries and meeting different people has allowed me to develop a better knowledge and feeling for the condition of female astronomers and astrophysicists in the community. I have not experienced more difficulties getting a job or a promotion so far, however, difficult situations for me to cope with are when the gender balance is very poor, but male astronomers are not aware of it. This happens at conferences, at meetings, in committees, as well as in departments in general. I found that it is very useful to raise and discuss these issues and probably this is the first way we can try to improve the situation: simply by making people aware that there is a problem. I have always also tried to make the point that we need to change our cultural perception of what a scientist is by offering female role models to children and young people. This is extremely important, as a young girl cannot recognize herself into a male adult, and if she sees an official astronomy committee, for example, all made up of men, she will set up her mind that astrophysics is not for her.


SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?

ML: Women are under-represented in all institutions I have worked in, particularly when looking at permanent staff members. In Utrecht there are no women permanent staff members. Hopefully this will change soon!


SIAA: What is your family status?

ML: I am married and have two small children.


SIAA: Have you had career breaks?

ML: I had two maternity leaves, one of 4 months during my second year in Cambridge and one of 8 months in between Cambridge and Utrecht.


SIAA: How difficult did you find the return to your work?

ML: It was easy for me to go back to work as after the birth of our first child my husband decided to quit his job to look after him. The second maternity leave was in-between jobs, so I started a new contract after the 8-month leave. During the 8-month leave I kept checking my emails to be connected to the community, dedicating a few hours per week to work. This break did not have any impact on my career so far. Of course, the number of publications were lower in the years my children were born as I was less (academically!) productive. I always state this in job applications. In any case, this was over-balanced by my research outputs in the other years.


SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?

ML: As I need the company of my children very much, I typically do not work extra hours (on average I work 7 to 8 hours per day) or on weekends, and spend much of my spare time playing with the children, doing yoga, and cooking, all of which helps my mind to perform much better at work.


SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?

ML: What has already most helped me to advance my career is the fact that I am one of the few lucky women whose husband has opted to stay at home to look after our two sons. Our family arrangement has allowed me to pursue the academic career without having to experience much of the stress and anxiety that often accompany career choices for women. Unfortunately, this is still a very rare case, except in some northern European countries.


SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?

ML: My advice to young female students is to always keep on discussing family issues with your partner and try to reach the most fair arrangement for sharing family duties. One thing to keep in mind is that while a woman loses her opportunity to be an astronomer, a man loses his chance of seeing his children grow, and everybody loses this way. It is really time we try to change gender stereotypes in relation to raising a family.