#NewProfessor: Francesca Peri - master of thousands of zebrafish

Francesca Peri

Francesca Peri is the master of thousands of zebrafish. With their help she wants to understand how microglia, the brain immune cells shape this important organ. Peri did her postdoc in the lab of Nobel prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard, she had her first lab at the EMBL in Heidelberg and is a dual career professor: She is married to MNF professor Darren Gilmour. The couple has a 11-year-old daughter.


«Go in without fears» Francesca Peri


Why did you choose to pursue science?
Francesca Peri (FP): After all the Greek and Latin I had to study during my high school years I definitely knew that I wanted to go into the field of natural science (laughs). I kind of stumbled into biology and very quickly I realized that it was wonderful and exactly what I wanted to do. As an ERASMUS student I spent a year in Paris and that was the first time I worked in a lab – and I loved it. 

What do you like best about your work?
FP: I like designing experiments and being challenged – having a question and trying to explore the unknown. It is exciting when the pieces of the puzzle start to snap together und you start to understand things. Also, I like traveling und meeting new people. 

Did you experience any dry spells or obstacles in your career? How did you overcome them?
FP: Papers can get rejected or you can make mistakes – these things happen. It is normal. But when you are passionate about something you look over these difficulties. So, no major dry spells. Although towards the end of my postdoc I did experience a challenging period: I had a daughter and balancing work with life obligations was sometimes tricky. But this is how it is for many of us. This is life!

Who has given you the most support during your career? And what about this in your personal life?
FP: I had great mentors and supervisors, especially my postdoc supervisor Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard. Working with her was inspirational. She would always encourage us to go for the big picture and big questions. She was very demanding but at the same time very supportive. She provided us with a great environment for doing science. I am also very fortunate that I have a partner who understands my job and at home we try to share duties as much as possible.

Did you have role models who have influenced your career? Who?
FP: Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard was surely a role model for me. But at the beginning, when I went into biology I had no role models - I didn’t even have a good biology teacher in high school but I still managed (laughs).

How do you maintain your work-life balance?
FP: When you are a scientist your work is always there with you. But sometimes it is good to take a few days off. At home I like to cook and Zürich offers many opportunities in terms of cultural events and beautiful places to discover.

What advice do you give to young researchers considering an academic career?  
FP: If this is what you like and what you are interested in, then go for it without fear, dive in, pour all your energy and passion into it and see what happens next. It is a real privilege to be a scientist, to follow your passion and for this to even be a job! It is clear that the road ahead is not always easy but many people give up, long before they really need to give up and this is a tragedy. Don t follow the trends and choose well what you want to study; it should be something that you first find to mind-blowing! 

Calista Fischer