We had the honor and pleasure to interview the Italian astrophysicist Simonetta Di Pippo, within the webinar series with Super Mentors of Me-Totem project.

Simonetta Di Pippo is the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  Her experience includes serving as Director of the Observation of the Universe at Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) (2002-2008) and Director of Human Spaceflight of the European Space Agency (ESA) (2008-2011).  Prior to her appointment at UNOOSA in March 2014, she was Head of the European Space Policy Observatory at ASI Brussels. She holds a Master’s Degree in Astrophysics and Space Physics, and an Honoris Causa degree in Environmental Studies.  Ms. Di Pippo was knighted by the President of the Italian Republic in 2006.  In 2008, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named asteroid 21887 “Dipippo”. In 2009 Di Pippo founded an international association called Women in Aerospace Europe.

We had the opportunity to learn some important advice from Simonetta Di Pippo’s experience.

The choice of the job

Simonetta called herself a “Science Lady” who decided to study physics and who fell in love with astrophysics and space science. She looked for three main factors in the choice of her job:

  • The chance to keep her knowledge running, to study continuously, to learn and growth day by day.
  • Having a satisfying social life: when you work hard it is very difficult to have a separate private life so Simonetta tried to build good relationships in the workplace.
  • The possibility to wake up every morning and to go to the office with the same passion, enjoying doing your job also after several years.

 Gender @ work

Simonetta experienced some issues related to gender in her working life.

At the very beginning of her career, her professor chose a male colleague instead of her for a research opportunity in the US: “ the grant would have been better spent for a man, since he would not have devoted some time trying to balance a family life”. Despite of this, Simonetta continued looking for alternatives pursuing her goal of working in the research and astrophysics field.

Despite the obstacles you might face, if you have clear ideas about where you want to land and you are truly committed you can overcome difficulties and you can make it.

All difficulties can be overcome if you have clear ideas about your goal and you are fully committed to achieve it

During a long career, you can have short static periods in which you need to wait in order to understand what is going on and to catch the right opportunity. These transition periods are fundamental to understand what your aims are and how you can achieve them.

Transition periods are helpful to understand where you want to land: it is important to be the right person at the right moment in the right place and some time you need to wait for this combination

Simonetta never gave up and she has always found the energy and the will to pursue her professional goals. Whenever someone tried to stop her, she did whatever it took to overcome the issue. She believes that we do not have to listen anyone: we just have to go straight on our path in order to obtain what we want.

A good leader should be also a psychologist, in order to understand people’s characteristics and adapt her behavior to each counterpart

Her relationship with the power

Simonetta received several recognitions: she told us that each time she was surprised since she has always felt that she was “just” doing her job. She did not expected to be considered a role model.

Power for her means being in the position to take decisions and make things happen.

An important reason of her success was that she has always tried to be in the right place at the right moment and she has never stopped looking for the job she wanted.

Commitment, work-life balance and networking

Simonetta shared with us three key tips.

The world is competitive and there are many good professionals. Therefore, what it really makes the difference is the commitment: in order to maintain it during your path and to overcome obstacles, you need to keep your passion alive.

There is nothing you can reach in the long run without commitment

It is not impossible to have a family, a satisfying private life and a rich career at the same time. To make it happen you have to be prepared to adapt your priorities and compromise sometimes. Thus, you do not have to choose between having a career and a family; you can have both in a rewarding manner.

Avoid the trap of choosing between a brilliant career and a rewarding private life: go for both!

The last advice Simonetta has shared with us is that networking is a key element in the professional life of a woman. You need to have this in mind from the beginning of your career and find time for it. Simonetta founded the Women in Aerospace Europe Association, an association through which senior and junior women working in this field can share experiences and information. The youngest professionals receive a big attention by the senior ones and they have an immediate access to top level information.

Networking is a key element in the professional life of a woman

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