Dr Jacquiline Romero, an experimental quantum physicist and mother of three, has been fascinated by science since she was given an algebra book as a schoolgirl. Today, Jacq is still solving some particularly difficult mathematical equations in the enigmatic world of quantum physics. Recently awarded the 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship, here she reveals how she stays productive when uncovering the secrets of the universe.
Follow a recipe
From the age of eight, when my uncle gave me an algebra book, what fascinated me is that you can translate a question – a word problem – into a mathematical equation, and from that find the answer. It was a powerful thought to an eight-year-old: I can solve anything if I can translate it to mathematics. Of course, much later on, I realised that there are unsolvable things, but, no matter, it’s safe to say I was already hooked.
Now is the right time
I did worry [my gender might hold me back] when I got pregnant in the first year of my PhD studies. With a baby coming and no results yet, I began searching for [role] models and found not many! I would have continued to worry, if not for my second supervisor who, upon hearing that I was pregnant said, ‘Perfect. Now is the best time!’ And it was. I had underestimated my abilities. That experience planted a seed in me to change how we see motherhood and academia.
Embrace the long game
In a culture of instant gratification, my research projects may take years – or a lifetime – to reach a conclusion. There are two ways I cope. First, I really believe that I have a worthy goal and believe that by understanding quantum information in higher dimensions we can do useful things. I also take comfort in the little problems that I get to solve every day. Eventually it all adds up.
You can’t always peak
The L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellowship comes at a very timely point in my career. Two years ago I moved to Australia, and soon after went on maternity leave. I’m just returning to peak productivity after those life changes. By providing funds for childcare, this fellowship will help me improve my visibility in the scientific community and hire a research assistant.
Focus is the key
Being a mother and a scientist are not mutually exclusive. Once you know this, it becomes about problem solving – how do you spend your time, which is now inevitably scarce. Focus really is key. It helps to be with [a partner] who values your career as much as you do, and is willing to show that in the practicalities of every day.