STEMM Profile: Céline d’Orgeville | Instrument Scientist (Laser Physics) | Australian National University | Canberra | ACT

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Associate Professor Céline d’Orgeville [Image: Gemini Observatory]

“As I became the first ever pregnant engineer in my organisation, people there had zero advice to offer me and I was left to figure out on my own whichever critical adjustments I would need to make”

Céline d’Orgeville is an Associate Professor and Instrument Scientist (Laser Physics) at the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. In 2012 she moved to Australia and joined the ANU RSAA instrumentation group to lead Laser Guide Star activities undertaken at the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre on Mount Stromlo near Canberra. Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics (LGS AO) is a technique which uses deformable mirrors and powerful lasers to remove the atmospheric blurring of images at the focus of large ground-based telescopes and restore their high angular resolution imaging capabilities. Her current projects include the Laser Tomography Adaptive Optics system design for the 25-metre Giant Magellan Telescope to be built in Chile in ~2020, and a Laser Guide Star facility to enhance the performance of space debris laser tracking, imaging and manoeuvring activities at the Cooperative Research Centre for Space Environment Management.

Prior to moving to Australia, Céline worked at the Gemini Observatory, an international organisation operating two 8-metre telescopes in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. There she led the design, fabrication and commissioning of the Gemini North and Gemini South Laser Guide Star facilities in Hawaii (1999-2006), and Chile (2007-2011). The Gemini South Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics (GeMS) laser is unique in the world in creating not just one but five sodium Laser Guide Stars to probe the atmosphere and help to restore the diffraction limit of the Gemini South 8-metre telescope over an exceptionally large field of view.

Céline holds two Masters degrees, in Optics and Photonics (Paris XI University), and in Optical Engineering (Institut d’Optique Graduate School, Orsay, France). As a female engineer who recently joined the ranks of Australian academics, Céline’s interest in gender equity issues stems from her professional as well as personal experience working in the astronomy community world-wide. Céline was the inaugural chair of her school’s Access and Equity Committee, and is a member of a number of Equity and Diversity committees at the College and University levels. In 2014 Céline and Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt co-chaired the Astronomical Society of Australia Women in Astronomy Workshop: “We are all Made of Stars: Establishing Equity and Diversity within Australian Astronomy”. That year, Céline also became a member of the ANU Gender Institute management committee, and in 2015 she was elected a member of the Astronomical Society of Australia Women in Astronomy Chapter steering committee.

When she is not busy leading multi-million dollar instrumentation programs or promoting equity and diversity in science and engineering, Céline enjoys spending time with her astronomer husband François, her Hawaiian-born 9-year-old daughter Anaïs, and her Chilean-born 7 year-old son Lucas. Whenever possible the whole family loves jumping on a plane to visit family and friends in France and Canada, and to discover new, exotic destinations around the world.

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Céline and her family

What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists? 

When offering permanent positions, universities and research organisations typically recruit mid-career or senior scientists based on their demonstrated productivity (research output and impact). Instead I would hire promising early-career scientists based on their potential for creativity and innovative research, *and* I would make sure to offer those early-career hires a stable work environment (permanent, or at least long-term positions) in which they can thrive without having to worry about their next job. This would naturally lead to hiring and retaining many more women who would eventually be given the opportunity to come out of the pipeline at the highest levels just like male scientists are currently able to do.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed? 

Self-confidence in my abilities and not paying too much attention to the fact that I was often the only woman involved in a project or a team! Of course this approach only worked until I was pregnant with my first child. As I became the first ever pregnant engineer in my organisation, people there had zero advice to offer me and I was left to figure out on my own whichever critical adjustments I would need to make during: my pregnancy (e.g. I could not work on high altitude mountains any more); maternity leave (I worked until the very last minute so I would be able to enjoy as much time as possible with my newborn baby); and return to work (I initially worked part-time so that I could breast-feed).

What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success? 

When I worked in Chile, it was easy and rather common for expats to hire one or more “nanas”, housemaids who would care for your home and sometimes your children. I was blessed to hire a wonderful nana named Maribel who cared for my young children at home while both my husband and I worked long hours, days and often nights, sometimes many days and nights in a row during runs at the telescope on a remote mountain top in the Chilean Andes. Maribel was my lifeline as I entrusted her with what I held most dear and I knew that I could trust her to care for my children as ably and lovingly as I would myself. 

What is it about you that got you to where you are today? 

Self-motivation, resilience, and a strong sense of purpose.

How can we change the scientific work culture to improve work/life balance? 

First I would recommend that we talk about “work/home” balance rather than “work/life” balance since I believe that work is an integral part of life and should not be pitched against it. In order to improve work/home balance for women and everyone else, it must become normal and expected that men seek and enjoy work/home balance for the same reasons women do. For instance, all employees regardless of gender should be encouraged to benefit from part-time, flex-time, and working from home arrangements. New parents should be allowed, and encouraged, to share (extended) parental leave equally with their partner. When such benefits as working flexible hours and taking leave to care for young, old, or sick family members become the norm for men, the work/home balance question (typically only asked to women) will be rendered moot for all.


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