First professorships for PRIMA grantees

Porträtbilder: Camilla Jandus und Alba Grassi

Securing a PRIMA grant is an important step on the road to a professorship. The career development of grantees Camilla Jandus and Alba Grassi are testimony to this: they have both been appointed professors.

The aim of the PRIMA funding scheme is to increase the number of women professors in Switzerland. The SNSF uses PRIMA to support excellent women researchers who have the potential to become professors. Grantees are given the opportunity to lead a research project with their own team at a higher education institution in Switzerland.

The SNSF launched the first PRIMA call in 2017 to address the continued underrepresentation of women in top academic positions. Across Switzerland, only about one in four professorships was held by a woman in 2020. In a first for PRIMA, two grantees were appointed professors last year.

Making a difference in cancer research

Camilla Jandus secured her first SNSF grants early in her career. In 2015 she successfully applied for Ambizione funding. The PRIMA grant followed in 2019 and it proved to be the boost that would propel her career to the next level: in early 2020, she started her tenure-track professorship at the Department of Pathology and Immunology of the University of Geneva. Her advice to young women researchers: don't be afraid to think outside the box.

In her research, she explores the question of how immune cell populations interact with each other. Her studies have improved the understanding of immune responses to cancer and are expected to help in the development of novel immunotherapies for cancer patients in the near future. This prospect matters greatly to the researcher: "I am very much aware of the fact that my daily work contributes to the progress of scientific knowledge, which ultimately is the basis for the development of new therapies. I feel this is my greatest achievement."

Promoting women in STEM

Alba Grassi received her PRIMA grant in early 2020. As a woman in STEM, of whom there aren't that many, she sees the grant as a personal incentive: "I found it very motivating and encouraging to see that there is a concrete willingness to support ideas and projects conceived by women." Her research fields are mathematical physics, quantum field theory and string theory.

After her doctorate, Alba Grassi worked abroad, first at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Triest and later at the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics in Stony Brook, New York. As a result, her large professional network spans many countries. Since November 2020, she has been a member of SwissMAP, a National Centre of Competence in Research, and held a professorship in mathematical physics at the University of Geneva. She also works at CERN. Alba Grassi believes that young women researchers should focus on what they like best. In particular she thinks it is important to be persistent and brave, especially in difficult times.

A step towards more gender diversity

"The two appointments in 2020 confirm that by launching PRIMA the SNSF can contribute to increasing the number of women professors in Switzerland," says Julia Cahenzli Jenkins, who heads the unit responsible for PRIMA at the SNSF Careers division. "We hope that the careers of these researchers inspire young women scientists."

PRIMA in figures

PRIMA has attracted great interest since its introduction in 2017. In response to the last call for proposals in 2020, the SNSF received 141 applications. In total, it has approved 59 PRIMA grants until now. They include salary and project costs for five years. In 2019, the average amount per project was 1.4 million francs. The grantees also benefit from a supplementary leadership programme, which includes workshops, coaching sessions and networking opportunities. If a PRIMA grantee secures a professorship in Switzerland during the project, the remaining funds can be transferred to her new place of work.