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Témoignage Kirsten

The 2017 L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science-laureate Kirsten Leistner, researcher at Chalmers University of Technology tells us about her experience in France.

Kirsten Leistner works with catalysis and focus on making processes more environmentally friendly.  Examples are making the exhaust gases from vehicles less polluting, or producing fuels and other chemicals using fewer natural resources. She was awarded the L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Prize with Julia Uddén (University of Stockholm).

Julia Uddén, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Kirsten Leistner

Julia Uddén, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Minister for Higher Education and Research, and Kirsten Leistner (Photo: For Women in Science 2017, Emma Burendahl)


Why did you choose to go to France?

I was doing an internship for my master’s thesis  in France, and that gave me the opportunity to apply for PhD positions there. I got offered a position at IFP, and I didn’t hesitate to take it because I really liked the international flavour I got to experience during my internship.

What did you enjoy most about your stay in France?

I liked that it is a secular state and a large country with many different sides, many options, and very international and cosmopolitan while at the same time having its own great culture, language, history.              

What surprised you the most in France?

I read up about life in France on the internet and in books before coming, so I was not too not surprised.

I’m a vegetarian, so I remember very well salade au chèvre chaud. I had it in almost every French restaurant I ever went to (it seems to be the only vegetarian dish in these restaurants).

How would you describe living in France?

I lived in the Paris region, and métro boulot dodo describes it pretty accurately. I imagine in other regions it might be different…

Also, in academia, even if you had time for more than that, the salary doesn’t allow for more. I imagine that living in Paris when rich would be fabulous. But as a PhD student, you just scrape by. Despite that, I did love living in France.

Any advice for students thinking about studying in France?

If you’re a PhD student, choose your supervisor carefully, to find someone who is aligned with your vision of what you want to do in future. It can have a huge impact on your future career. Actually that holds everywhere, not just in France. Maybe explore the possibility of not going to Paris. There are excellent universities and research centres in other cities. Living elsewhere could be very beneficial in terms of living costs and travel times. I noticed a large difference in these kinds of “external stress factors” when doing my internship in Orléans, compared to my later stay in Paris. Also, start learning French before travelling to France.