Research, lives of mothers in lab coats: “He went to maternity leave”

by time news
Research, lives of mothers in lab coats: “He went to maternity leave”

Monica Giannottasenior postdoc all’Form (Firc Institute of Molecular Oncology) in Milan, is 45 years old, and has only one dream: to continue being part of the world of research for a long time. She is precarious and knows that “nothing is taken for granted”, despite the prizes, achievements and accolades she is accumulating. The laboratory is her dimension of hers, and in order to have it she gave up a lot, even delaying the moment in which she can crown with a son the love that binds her to Emiliano, who in her life deals with quality control. in the business environment. Today she holds Mattia in her arms, 3 years old. It arrived when Monica was 41. And Emiliano plays a crucial role in the turning point that allowed her to reconcile a scientific career and family. In this story it is he who joins her and chooses to find a job in the same city. And it is he who takes what is still colloquially called ‘optional maternity’, but which in reality is technically parental leave, paid at 30%, designed to allow a parent to abstain from work to take care of their child in the early days. years of life.

Sara Sepe instead of years she is 37. Married to Enzo, professor of history and philosophy at the Einstein high school in Milan, they have a daughter, Sofia, 4, and are expecting Elsa who should be born in mid-June. Sara also works at Ifom and in common with Monica has another thing: both have used the so-called Lab G, a laboratory born in 2007 and designed for researchers expecting a baby or new mothers to guarantee them the opportunity to work in maximum safety for the period of pregnancy and breastfeeding. “It is not so obvious to find a space like this in research centers. I have had experiences abroad and in Italy and I have not found any,” she observes. Most of the time it simply happens that, when you are expecting a baby or breastfeeding, researchers are barred from laboratory life to avoid the potential risk of exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents. From 2007 to 2020, the researchers who temporarily carried out their research in Lab G were almost 90.

This is how you become mothers in smocks. Not without sacrifices. The two researchers talk about each other at time.news Salute on the eve of Mother’s Day and offer a glimpse of their reality, explaining what are the expectations, the unmet needs, the goals to be achieved for a science that is increasingly in pink.

Sara specializes in aging diseases. She was born in Venosa (Potenza), living far from home she does not have grandparents available for help in family management. “But I have the support of my husband – she says – with whom we manage to organize ourselves and make sure that both of our jobs are not put to the test. We divide the day: I accompany the child in the morning to kindergarten, he who he starts early in the morning but goes to pick her up in the afternoon. In the pandemic it was the same “, management in tandem.

Monica during the Covid-19 emergency never stopped going to the laboratory. “At that time I had a review for an important work which was then published in the journal ‘Circulation Research’.” In this paper, Giannotta’s name in the list of authors appears in the position reserved for those who have responsibility for the study. “A responsibility that I felt a lot”, she recalls. The study, which later earned the highlight of the European Vascular Biology Organization (EVBO), describes a molecular mechanism that controls endothelial permeability in glioblastoma and ovarian cancer. The researcher is from Sogliano Cavour (Lecce), she has a degree in pharmaceutical biotechnology from the University of Bologna and a doctorate from the Mario Negri Sud Institute in Lanciano (Chieti).

Then comes the postdoc in Elisabetta Dejana’s laboratory in Ifom, where Monica achieves various scientific successes and also the Galen prize. For 6 years she lived her marriage at a distance, between Milan and Ancona. Then Emiliano joined her in the Lombard capital and Mattia arrived, “the joy of our family”, she confides. The couple has known each other since the age of 17 and is very close in family management. Monica today is engaged in the study of the double role of a protein in vascular diseases of the brain (glioblastoma and ischemic stroke). While Sara’s attention in the laboratory is entirely focused on the accumulation of damage to the DNA during aging “which she predisposes to a series of pathologies. I study these mechanisms and potential therapeutic agents to stem their effect”. Specifically, “I deal with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis”. The scientific dream, apart from that of “publishing in ‘Nature’, the ‘bible’ magazine of the scientific community, is that of” being able to see that these studies translate into new approaches “for such complex pathologies.

It is a demanding job and, says Sara, “it certainly takes a lot of determination to continue, and to start a family, despite the precariousness that generally characterizes this profession”. She, graduated in medical biotechnology at the University of Tor Vergata, after her doctorate in Rome (during which she met Enzo di lei) continued her scientific career in Holland, at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. She returned to Italy to combine private life and career, she found a job in Ifom in the group directed by Fabrizio d’Adda di Fagagna. She lived through the precarious situation until a few months ago, “but now – she says – I have a permanent position as a staff scientist, which I obtained almost in conjunction with my pregnancy”. Pregnancies that “have always been positively received” in the workplace, “but, again, it is not taken for granted that this will happen everywhere. So – Sara reflects – what I hope is that the conception that a pregnant woman is not a limit will widen. , but an enrichment “.

But families of working parents need services. Among those Monica was able to rely on, she found a lot of help, for example, ifom’s affiliated nursery school for Mattia. In addition to Lab G that she allowed her “to work until the eighth month forward”. Mattia was born in October and his mother returned to work in February. The management of the little one of the house “is not easy, not being able to count on the parents” for both distant ones. “We have a babysitter who helps us if necessary – says Monica – But when, for example, Mattia is not well or is in need, my husband uses my parental leave, which has been transferred to him. His employers are people delicious and they agreed. It was a panacea. But to be able to keep everything in balance, the day must be very organized “, in an almost military way.

On the work-life balance front, “there is still a lot to do”, admits Monica who highlights on the one hand the very difficult aspect of precariousness in the world of research. A condition that still lives today. “In Italy above all it is difficult, despite a person doing well, to obtain a stabilized situation. These mechanisms must be improved and more alternatives to be offered for the management of children. Such as, for example, to provide babysitters at the municipal level or other forms of support, for example for the summer months, as a cost-controlled campus. And the old paradigms must be changed. It would benefit both men and women. And children, who could enjoy both parents equally. ”

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