The biologist Armelle Corpet and paleo-climatologist Anna Nele Meckler will receive the 2015 Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) Prize. This distinction rewards their remarkable scientific work supported by a MHV grant. The prize will be bestowed on 23 September 2015 at the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Each year, the SNSF awards around 35 Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) grants which allow outstanding women scientists to resume their careers after an interruption for family reasons. The two winners of the MHV Prize 2015 successfully relaunched their research careers with the help of the grant. Over a period of two years, Anna Nele Meckler continued her postdoctoral studies in paleo-oceanography at the Institute of Geology at ETH Zurich. Armelle Corpet has conducted experimental cancer research at the Gynaecology department of University Hospital Zurich.
Valour does not await the passing of years
At 33 years of age, doctor of biology Armelle Corpet's academic trajectory has been exceptional. After studies in biology and biochemistry at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, she sat the agrégation competitive exam before doing her masters in cancer research. Studying for her doctorate in biology from University of Paris VI, awarded in 2010, she undertook research into genome stability and chromatin regulation mechanisms. During this period which was remarkably productive in scientific terms, Armelle Corpet also gave birth to her first two children. When her husband took a job in Zurich the family followed him. After a break of a few months following the birth of their third child, Armelle Corpet was awarded a MHV grant from 2012 to 2014 to support the realisation of a postdoctoral research project at University Hospital Zurich. "The postdoctoral phase is extremely important in a researcher's career, and is frequently a prerequisite for finding a post. The funding was therefore crucial," she emphasised. Armelle Corpet's work is focused on the study of senescence, a cell cycle arrest mechanism that is triggered when the cell is stressed or a cancer gene is activated.
Having given birth to a fourth child during the period of the MHV grant, Armelle Corpet feels that her career has now stabilised: "Thanks to the postdoctoral research funded by the MHV grant I was able to find a permanent post as a lecturer in France, which allows me to be more confident about my future and to combine my dual passions of research and teaching." Her current work is focused on the study of chromatin dynamics in cells infected by herpes simplex virus 1.
From an interrupted postdoc to an ERC Starting Grant
Following studies in geo-ecology at the University of Bayreuth, Anna Nele Meckler, co-recipient of the MHV Prize 2015, continued her scientific career with a doctorate in paleo-oceanography obtained from ETH Zurich in 2006. This was followed by a postdoctorate at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). However, only the experimental part of the project was completed when Anna Nele Meckler interrupted her postdoc to join her husband, also a researcher, in Norway shortly before the birth of their first child. During extended maternity leave, the family returned to Zurich where Anna Nele Meckler recommenced her research in her thesis supervisor's group at ETH Zurich.
"At the time I applied for the MHV grant I did not have many publications, which would have been a serious disadvantage when applying for positions or normal funding schemes," explains Anna Nele Meckler. She was awarded an MHV grant from 2012 to 2014, giving her the opportunity to complete and publish the results of her Californian postdoctoral research and to launch a new project based on recently acquired expertise. The grant period, during which her second child was born, was remarkable in scientific terms: Anna Nele Meckler published her results in prestigious scientific journals and her works resonated highly in the scientific community. At the end of her grant, Anna Nele Meckler obtained a fellowship from the Bergen Research Foundation and a prestigious ERC Starting Grant to launch her research group at the University of Bergen in Norway. There she continues her work on the reconstruction of the climate in periods with high greenhouse gas concentrations in order to better predict future climate change.
"The grant allowed me to re-gain competitiveness"
The MHV grant has given both researchers a boost to access the next phase of their career. "In addition to paying my salary, the funding of part of my research activities has been the real benefit of this grant and has allowed me to be more independent within my laboratory, which was an important factor in allowing me to find a subsequent position," explains Armelle Corpet.
For Anna Nele Meckler, the MHV grant allowed her to derive benefit from her previous research. "The grant allowed me to re-gain competitiveness, by publishing several high-impact papers on previous work and gaining more in-depth experience with a cutting-edge technique."
Presentation of the Prize at the Advanced Researchers' Day
The winners will receive their prizes, each carrying a CHF 25,000 award, on 23 September 2015 at the SNSF in Berne. The ceremony is open to all media and interested persons and will mark the end of the Advanced Researchers' Day information event run by the SNSF.