Laurence Méchin

Laurence Méchin

I am Laurence Méchin, CNRS research director and head of the Electronics Research Group at GREYC (Groupe de Recherches en Informatique, Image et Instrumentation de Caen – UMR 6072), a research laboratory in computer science and electronics engineering in Caen, France (

I received my Ph.D. degree in Electronics & Microelectronics from the University of Caen in 1996, which I prepared at CEA-LETI (Grenoble, France) on free-standing infrared microbolometers based on epitaxial YBa2Cu3O7-d thin films grown on CeO2/YSZ buffered silicon substrates. After two post-doctoral positions, at the University of Cambridge (UK) in 1997 to study the superconducting properties of YBa2Cu3O7-d films grown on vicinal substrates by DC sputtering and at the University of Twente (The Netherlands) in 1998 to develop high value capacitance based on (Ba,Sr)TiO3 films on silicon, I joined GREYC in Caen at the end of 1998 as a lecturer and in october 2001 as a CNRS full-time researcher.

My expertise is based on multidisciplinarity: pulsed laser deposition of functional oxide thin films (among them the ferromagnetic composition La2/3Sr1/3MnO3), microfabrication of devices, design and characterisation of low-noise sensors. I enjoy some long-standing collaborations with various colleagues in Europe, thanks to friendships developed during my thesis or post-docs, then with PhD students who have become researchers themselves or simply with colleagues I’ve met at conferences. I recently took part in a H2020 European project whose multidisciplinary nature and focus on the health sector were particularly motivating and I was very happy to meet new people and know about new fields.

At school I always liked scientific subjects, but physics in particular, because I wanted to know “how it works”. My parents were teachers at the elementary school. My father passed on to me his love of science and, above all, the scientific approach. I think what I like most about my job as a researcher is that it gives me the opportunity to create things, such as sensors, and that it allows me to carry out experiments to answer the different questions I have about how the devices I want to make work. I’m not able to manipulate theoretical concepts, but I do know how to bring together information from different sources and areas of expertise. Today, I regret that I can’t spend as much time as I used to doing the experiments myself, but I’m delighted to be working with young colleagues and PhD students so that I can pass on my experience and guide them through the experiments. I don’t do any teaching but I have to deal with a lot of little administrative things that cut into the time available. I find that the hardest thing to manage. I also have to balance family life with my two children and my partner. I also love nature and I don’t find enough time to walk in mountains or along the sea side. Overall the difficulty is managing the frustration of not having enough time for everything!

In retrospect, I don’t think I’ve had any particular difficulties in my career. The post-doc periods were exciting from the point of view of scientific, human and cultural encounters, and balanced out the sacrifices and choices I had to make on a personal level to get through those periods. Then I got a permanent job that allowed me to start my career more continuously. I do think, however, that the early stages of a woman’s career are more difficult to manage, because developing our own research area requires a very high level of professional investment, which has an impact on our private life, at an age when you may also want to build a family and have children. The travels required to make contacts at conferences can be difficult to organise with young children. Spouses who are heavily involved in family life are essential.

During my thesis I was lucky enough to have two very inspiring PhD directors at the two places I had to work. They always encouraged and guided me to build my career and I’m very grateful to them for that. But very soon after I got my permanent post, I had to develop my own topic and look for funding myself to buy the equipment I needed for the activities I was planning. Today, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I’m also happy to be working with my partner who is also a researcher. He is playing a dual role in my career as a trusted colleague and understanding partner.

To the younger people, and in particular young women, who are thinking of becoming researchers, I would simply say that they should believe in what they want to do and that being a researcher is a wonderful job, which allows you to keep learning and remain curious. A lot is possible if you believe in it. Finally, over the last few years, I’ve started talking to a number of colleagues and reading documents about the weight of gender stereotypes and I’m trying to convey the idea that science is for everyone to secondary school pupils by trying to pass on my passion for science.