Serena Giardino

PhD student in the “Quantum Gravity and Unified theories” department

What is your current position at our institute?

I am a PhD student in the “Quantum Gravity and Unified theories” department.

How and when did you choose to do physics?

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was 5 years old because I was so fascinated with space. I then chose to study physics (and not philosophy, in the end) in my last year of high school, because of the awe I felt when looking at the night sky and thinking about what was “out there” in the universe. This motivated me to challenge myself by studying something I did not know much about.

What is your academic education?

  • Currently PhD student at AEI and Heidelberg University
  • MSc in Theoretical Physics, University of Bologna, Italy
  • Erasmus+ exchange, LMU Munich
  • BSc in Astronomy, University of Bologna, Italy

Did you have someone who acted as a role model or mentor to you in the past, or does so in the present? What is the most important thing you learned from them?

I am extremely lucky to have as a role model and mentor my current supervisor at Heidelberg University, Prof. Lavinia Heisenberg. From her, I learned that an accomplished scientist in the competitive world of academia can also be supportive, caring and genuinely engaged for the younger generations. Through her example, she also showed me that there is a powerful definition of leadership founded on empathy and integrity, which is able to bring out the best in people working together.

What would you recommend to a young woman wanting to start a career in physics?

To be driven primarily by her genuine curiosity and desire to learn, to keep in mind that there are different ways of solving problems and different definitions of “success” in science, and to learn to take care of her wellbeing to keep strong when challenges arise.

What measures that target women and girls in science would you care about and/or would you like to see realized in the scientific community?

I think we need more opportunities for scientists to plan their careers in the longer term, and more practical support for people who have children, so they do not have to choose between family and work. This of course affects all genders, but it is well-known that it disproportionately affects women and it is often a reason why women struggle to get to the top of their profession.

What is your vision for women and girls in science in 20 years?

I hope that in 20 years women from all corners of the world and walks of life will be able to have agency over their lives and take their own decisions. On top of this, I envision a world in which girls do not consider science as a path that is not for them and that every woman who wants to do science is supported in doing so, and has role models to look up to.

Can you please describe your research?

My research focuses on understanding the true nature of gravity. The standard model of cosmology, based on Einstein’s General Relativity, provides an accurate picture only by postulating the existence of dark matter and dark energy. I explore modified theories of gravity that might explain the accelerated expansion of the universe without resorting to dark energy, and I try to understand the cosmological implications of going beyond Einstein’s theory, for both the early and the late universe.

Please let us know why you chose the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics for your research.

I chose this institute because it is a center of excellence for the study of gravity, on which I wanted to focus on. After a few years spent here, I can confidently say it was a great decision, because of the great working conditions and also the support I received during the challenging times of my PhD.

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