Former Women @CERN

Elisa García-Tabarés

When Elisa first met CERN, she was around one year old. She was born in a scientist family: her grandfather was a pharmacist and her father works as a physicist. He had the opportunity to come to CERN and Elisa’s family moved from Madrid to Ferney-Voltaire.

Now, 32 years later, she is the one working at CERN, in the Mechanical and Material Engineering group, surrounded by a small big beauty. What Elisa sees and discovers under her microscope amazed her daily. She lives in Saint-Genis-Pouilly with her husband, Luis, who is also working at CERN, and with their daughter, Eli.

It has been almost 5 years since Elisa started working at CERN. 21st May 2015, the day of her PhD defense, while she was having breakfast, Luis, who at that time was just boyfriend, called her: “I have been admitted at CERN”. Elisa defended her PhD embraced by these good news, and having in mind that they were getting married in three months.

It was September 2015 when they arrived here, just after their honeymoon. It was in the middle of it, when Elisa did an interview and got a call from CERN to start as a Project Associate. After two years of PJAS, she got a Fellow in a different group, department and section. It was similar to what she did after her PhD in Solar Energies, when she decided to change completely her field and focus on the materials.

There is another special match between CERN and Elisa’s life story. In 2008, while she was studying her degree in Material Science and Engineering, she had the opportunity to come here for three months to do the final project of her degree. CERN means a lot to Elisa. It hosts a lot of her memories.

She believes that she is who she is thanks to her family, thanks to her father and her mother, who taught her a very valuable proverb: “guarda el orden y el orden te guardará”. Being orderly is one of Elisa’s virtues. She remembers how much this proverb has helped her to find the pillars of her personality.

When she dreams about herself, she imagines a life with her family, in a quiet neighbourhood, if possible, in Madrid, working at University. Also, visiting Galicia, her husband’s terriña, frequently and, making some room for Valencia, where a warmer climate awaits them.

Elisa knows where she wants to go, but she does not run. She prefers to keep the order, because as the Madrid-born poet, Gloria Fuertes, wrote: el que sabe dónde va, / va despacio, / para paladear, / el “ir llegando”. 

It is nice to think that “Little Eli”, who is now the same age that Elisa had when she was living around CERN, and who is also surrounded by scientific relatives, will end up having a CERNie experience.

It is nice to think that coincidences will never have an end.

Former Women @CERN

Paula Álvarez López

Almost for two years, Paula, a restless and curious woman from Gijón, worked at CERN, that laboratory that keeps beauty hidden tens of meters underground. It was one the primal incorporations of HiLumi, and she was part of its technical project management department.

This was Paula’s first work experience. She had studied a degree in Engineering of Industrial Technologies at the University of Oviedo (Spain), studying the last year in Berlin (Germany), with an Erasmus scholarship. It was also where she began to find her path because, for her, CERN is a fantastic place to create your own adventure. Now, from Boston (USA), where she has been almost a couple of years, Paula remembers with special affection the two hobbies that accompanied her in Geneva: basketball and classical music.

As during her childhood and adolescence she lived with the court and baggy equipment, as soon as she arrived to CERN, she joined a basketball team, the Meyrin Basket, where she spent the first trainings and games lost in translation. Along with this sport, classical music. Paula, who played viola at a professional level since she was a little girl, joined l’Orchestre des Nations, where different nationalities and families of instruments were mixed.

Basketball gave her, in addition to triples and DOMS, a formidable level of French. Music, in addition to concerts and harmony, brought her a rhythmic love. In the orchestra, Paula met Matt, her current fiancé, who at that time was also doing her PhD at CERN.

In such a special place, where she believes that there are amazing opportunities to look for and to pursue, Paula realized that she wanted to direct her career towards management. Along with her mentor, a great friend and ally, she set her future plans and professional goals.

That is why, after her time at CERN, Paula flew to Madrid, where she worked for two years at McKinsey & Company, an American consultancy firm, of which, at the end of this summer, she will again be part. This time, from across the pond. To join her more technical profile with the field of management, Paula did a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Harvard, which she has just successfully completed.

From that shore of the Atlantic, Paula dreams of dedicating her training, time and effort to sustainability. She believes that the great problem in our society is that we are taking over the world we live in, so she would love to reverse the situation by taking advantage of emerging technologies. This summer, before rejoining as a strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company, she is collaborating with Peace of Meat, a Belgian startup that, like Paula, is committed to feed the world differently, while protecting the environment.

Paula will continue to contribute grains and grains of sand, so that we have a healthier world. She will keep shaping her career and composing her life with sheet music for violin and viola. And she will not forget her experience as a CERNie, which will always sound like Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

Former Women @CERN

Blanca Vázquez de Prada

Like Nietzsche, Blanca is a friend of the slowness. Now, from Madrid, she enjoys her own calm in the non-hegemony of the Fast & Furious. Life, like philology, demands above all to distance oneself from the rest, take time, decelerate, and our engineer lives her days on those margins.

Blanca was born at the Mediterranean’s foot, in Mojácar, a city located in Almería (Spain). After studying industrial design engineering in Seville, she worked in the Andalusian capital and also in the country’s one. Years later, she opened a door to England, and from there she jumped to CERN, where she has worked and enjoyed for five years.

She is not currently working. Her stage as a CERNie was very intense, and that is why Blanca has given herself a time of reflection, changes and rest. One way to avoid, in Nietzsche’s words, “the age of the rashness, the indecent and sweaty rush that aims to end everything immediately.” That age, which is ours, which is the Work’s one.

From that stand-by terrace, our engineer takes a look at the most special memories of that time. The disconnection from those yoga classes, which started with four cats in a park in Saint-Genis-Pouilly and grew to full capacity at CERN itself. The sweet Geneva dance academy that kept her in touch with contemporary dance that she has practiced since childhood. And, of course, those rides in a white cinquecento singing sevillanas loudly, like someone celebrating a goal in the last minutes of the game. An oasis within the High Level and the international ties.

That relaxing doses did not occur in solitude. The friendships that Blanca forged at CERN still accompany her, and she speaks, smiling, about the illusion with which they work, about their brilliant minds and their big hearts. She well remembers how excited she was when she arrived to CERN. She felt like a little girl again. It was difficult for her to shrink her smile from ear to ear when, ready for taking the photo for the access card, she was told not to smile that much. How to control so much emotion?

During her five years as a CERNie, Blanca was part of several projects. She started in civil engineering and, later on, she went to do a more mechanical design, an integration design, within the HiLumi team. She made sure that everything fit and that it was in accordance with the project’s requirements. Blanca was the link, the smiling piece that brought together the work of the different teams and departments.

She believes that it is important to find a balance between the personal demands and the enjoyment of the experience to make the most of each coffee and conversation with other CERNies, those more or less random beings who are the most beautiful things in this place. For Blanca, the beauty was in the mix, in the diversity that fitted everything, in the small big family that CERN is.

Blanca dreams now of breadcrumbs, no big loaves of bread. To engage every little wish in her daily life is enough. Go back to work? Yes, but only from a perspective of calm and serenity, because Blanca is a friend of the slow reading of life and, as Nietzsche wrote in her Aurora, reading well is reading slowly.

Women @CERN

Paula Freijedo Menéndez

Like Chandler Bing, Phoebe Buffay or Ross Geller, no one told Paula life was gonna be this way. For whatever reason, fate brought this woman from Oviedo to the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. She left everything in Asturias, which saw her grow, train and reinvent herself. She grabbed her suitcase and she came alone to the surroundings of the Franco-Swiss border. It has been 6 years since then.

She studied Technical Mining Engineering in Mieres, and very soon she began to work in the industry on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea, in Gijón. At that time, the country was already saying goodbye to coal mines and the employment opportunities were scarce, but Paula decided to reinvent herself by jumping to another branch of Engineering. She did a master’s degree in International Welding Engineering in Gijón. She tried her luck at CERN right after, and she won.

To this day, she is still impressed by this huge laboratory and its performance. For her, it is fantastic that at CERN people with different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and specialization areas collide, and that together they collaborate to carry lots of projects forwards. That cooperation capacity, that working style, has nothing to do with what Paula had experienced in the industry.

For Paula, being here, being a CERNie, is a dream come true. She does not consider herself very ambitious when it comes to fantasizing. Paula simply dreams of being happy, having a certain professional stability and continuing to enjoy her small big family, which grew a bit a few months ago with Casper, a 5-year-old French bulldog who climbs mountains at the speed of light.

The younger and crazier Paula from 2003 was already screaming for dreams like these ones, together with El Canto del Loco: “y vivir así, yo quiero vivir así”. This song brings her back very good memories, those that used to materialize from pub to pub in the nights with friends, when you had a good time and there were no worries lurking.

Paula, who enjoys horror films and the crime novels of Agatha Christie and Camilla Läckberg, defines herself as a simple person, something easy to say, but no to explain. For her, beauty can be seen from the beach, at sunset, or in the manufacture of new components. Although it is sometimes hidden behind many meetings, unforeseen events or ups and downs, there is no rival for the collective effort. That is why such a beautiful things always end up coming out.

She is an optimistic woman and she tries to apply a daily dose of “no hay mal que por bien no venga”, because although sometimes we do not want to see it, there is always something good around us.

Libertad en los ojos: / invadir la belleza / y meterla en un hombre. From these verses by Antonio Gamoneda, who was also born in Oviedo, our engineer thinks of freedom without restrictions and beauty as subjectivity. 

As in Una foto en blanco y negro, “viendo la vida sin reloj”, Paula will continue to assemble challenges and the art of simplicity and tranquility. She will go on as if she knows there will always be a place for her in Monica Geller’s apartment.

Women @CERN

Beatriz Ferreira

Among handcrafts, aircrafts and makeup, Beatriz combines the 25 pieces of her own puzzle. And, as Alamedadosoulna, a ska-reggae-soul group from Madrid, shouts in their concerts, she is so delighted to have met herself.

Beatriz is an aerospace engineer. She studied at the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) in Lisbon, about three hours and a half from her home town: Braga. Beatriz lived there with her family and her dog, Sherlock, a 9-year-old beagle who was born without a paw. They used to play detectives together over the hills of Braga.

After finishing her degree, she specialized in mechanics with a master’s degree. Although it was also at the IST, Beatriz’s master took off with half year of Erasmus experience in Pisa (Italy). Later on, she was working as a researcher in the Centre of Engineering and Product Development (CEiiA), in Matosinhos, and months later she flew to French lands.

Now, she is happy in the little Saint-Genis-Pouilly. She has been working at CERN for two and a half years, as Quality & Production Engineer in HiLumi LHC. She feels that her dream is coming true every day because her dream could be empirical: to be where she already is.

Although she is no longer living, literally, on top of a hill, she has the Jura nearby, and she often go all the way up to the top of it, where she sometimes runs into beauty. That beauty that Beatriz also finds on the inside of the warehouses where the machinery for the CERNies experiments is built, where she can see how the different pieces, like babies, grow and change shape. Because, for Beatriz, beauty has to do with elaboration: creating something beautiful, making something nice.

Beauty is an art, and art is subjective. Beatriz particularly enjoys one: the art of makeup, where the human face (sometimes, the whole body) becomes a blank canvas where imagination and madness are given full rein. That madness of which the Portuguese poet and doctor, Miguel Torga, spoke: the madness in which we recognize ourselves, the madness that makes us humans.

And the puzzles? Beatriz doubts because they reside on a peculiar border between art and science. The puzzles are not “absolute creation” because they come, somehow, prefabricated. They are not paintings, although they all have to do with pictorial art. The puzzles are not science either, but a methodology is needed to get a result. Like 2+2=4, the puzzles reach a unique solution, after which, there are those who decide to frame them and those who prefer to undo them.

To Beatriz, it is not necessary to be the best to achieve a goal. It is enough to have something unique, to be different. In essence: being ourselves. And, as Alamedadosoulna sings, wanting to be “como ese que sale en mi carné de identidad”. 

Beatriz’s hands, which used to make crafts when they were little, could potentially design aircrafts and space rockets. Who knows. For now, she continues to live her dream. She is still delighted with her puzzle.