Interview with Dr Sylvain Zorman (February 2014)

Categories: Meet the researchers

Sylvain Zorman works at Yale University, Connecticut. Sylvain and his family moved to the USA four years ago, as he was offered a post-doc position in the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University. Sylvain was one of the participants at the ‘Destination Europe’ event in Cambridge on 31st January 2014.

Q: Sylvain, please tell us a bit about your background and your research in the US.

A: I grew up in Grenoble, in France and as far as I remember, I always wanted to be a physicist. It was quite late in my studies that I realized that some parts of biological science were accessible to physical and mathematical approaches.

After receiving my Masters in Theoretical Physics, I started a PhD in Biophysics. During my PhD, I studied the structural and mechanical properties of protein for the regulation of chromosomal replication in bacteria. I used magnetic tweezers, a technique that allows the manipulation of individual molecules, to directly monitor the physical properties of the protein involved in the initiation of replication.

For my post doc, I wanted to work more closely with biologists. In 2010, I joined the lab of Dr. Jim Rothman, in the department of Cell Biology at Yale University. Jim Rothman was awarded in 2013 the Nobel price of Medicine for discovering the SNARE protein. At Yale, using high-resolution single molecule approach, I have been studying how SNARE proteins assemble and provide energy to drive membrane fusion.

I came to Yale with my wife and my then 10-month-old son. My wife is a graduate student in the immunobiology department.

Q: Thank you Sylvain for telling us about your life here in the USA and your research work. What did you learn in particular at ‘Destination Europe’?

A: At this stage of my career, I am looking for a junior faculty position within a research-intensive institution in Europe. Having worked for three years in the US it is hard to keep up with opportunities in Europe. Different countries have different organizations and it is easy to get lost. For instance, in France the application process is cumbersome with very little open positions. Without prior knowledge of this peculiar system and good support within France, it is very hard to compete. Interestingly, at “Destination Europe”, I realized that other countries do offer very competitive career opportunities in fundamental research and that efforts are made to attract international researchers. Representatives and researchers from various countries were available for informal discussion.

Q: Would you consider conducting research in Europe again?

A: Definitely. There is a lot of great research being done in Europe. This is where my roots are. I miss the culture and the way of life.

Q: What would you say to those researchers that have never been to Europe? Is it worthwhile? Will you be able to use the knowledge gained to further enhance your research career after returning to Europe?

A: I left Europe for a postdoc in the US to acquire more experience and broaden my fields of expertise. Although it is something hard to evaluate at this stage of my career, I believe that it was a worthwhile move. Nevertheless, I think that it is fundamental in academia to have worked abroad.

The European Union and some European countries are committed to fundamental research. For instance, while the US government funding for fundamental research has sharply decreased during the time I have lived here, the Marie Curie framework will see a significant budget increase in the upcoming years. This is on top of national funding opportunities. Overall, the funding opportunities are not so bad compared to the US.

Most European countries offer great benefits such as cheap daycare, free university, efficient health care system and social security. This is definitely something to be looked at carefully when comparing salaries with other part of the world.

Finally, living and working abroad has been highly rewarding, and essential for high-quality research. With its wide variety of countries and culture, everyone can find in Europe a great place to live and perform research.

Sylvain liked learning about the different funding schemes operating in Europe and enjoyed chatting with the speakers implementing these programmes during the small breaks. The ‘Destination Europe‘ Conference was truly a great source of information to him and many other participants.