The day I met Pascale Cossart

My brain and heart jumps simultaneously while my eyes start vaguely at the black TV screen in my hotel room.

I just attended a keynote lecture by Pascale Cossart, an award-winning bacteriologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who’s dedicated her carrier to study Listeria monocytogenes, a deadly bacterium responsible for encephalitis and other diseases.

I am not ashamed to say that this was a life time talk, and I am in love like a teenager.

If you’ve ever got excited at reading science papers, if you’ve ever thought to copy and paste what you hear form others scientists onto your on project, if you keep thinking “this gonna be the very first thing I gonna do back in the lab”, you are among the lucky cursed of the same fever that probably affects me. Then, you understand. All the other, just stop reading here, it will make no sense to you.

I heard and read about Pascale Cossart from long time, and I had big expectations. A former colleague of my lab has always described her as an idol and I keep bumping into her works on the best journals.

Today, finally, there she was: the member of any single relevant microbiology and Royal societies in Europe and US, delivered in a skin color ensemble with a black foulard secured around the neck. She emanates just the right combo of sympathy and respect I love to see in people.

Beside the great discoveries she makes, her way to convey a message makes you feel like you are in her lab, right where the discoveries are made. The science unfold smoothly from her mouth and walks straight into your brain, giving you the impression that even a 7 years old would understand the beauty of it.

There have been few people able to re-boost my confidence in Science. To cast away that gloomy feeling that what you do is never enough and will always be someone that will do better then you. That awful awareness that headaches, low salary and 10h shifts are not that worth it, after all.

When I come across those periods, listening to great and nice researchers it’s like a breath of fresh air. For some reason, those people don’t smash you down with the impact of their discoveries (you dream to make). They rather lift you up at their level, and invite you to look over the cliff where we all stand now, and ask you: “what do you see?”.

Someone told me: 5% of scientists are those who leads, 95% are those who follow. Let me rephrase that in my newly acquired confidence: 95% are those who have the chance to follow or to get inspired. If I’m not gonna be the 5%, I rather gonna work my ass out to belong to the second category.

At the end of her talk, after a long applause, I felt the audience getting smaller and smaller: the lions that have asked questions all day became suddenly shy (me included). It wasn’t because we didn’t understand: we understood well how much all of this was beyond any intelligent thing we could formulate in 15 seconds.

After the hall emptied, I was at 5 meters from her. And she was alone. I stood up, I shacked her hand and with the most stupid heavenly face I expressed my fascination. I had a good card to play to impress her, a recent article I presented as a journal club to my group, which nicely fit into her story. She was happy I brought it up to her.

But our newly born intimacy was soon broken, as a big shark walked straight towards us and pushed me aside without even glancing at me, telling her how beautiful she still is after x many years.

I can still say I talked to her.

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