Driven by her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, Julie Payette’s integrity, honesty and determination are now giving a new generation something to dream about. We interviewed her about her incredible career path, and her current work at the head of the Montréal Science Centre.
Your story is a source of inspiration for a lot of people. What advice would you give?
You’ve got to equip yourself with the right tools to realize your ambitions. Nothing in life is free, so you’ve got to put in every last ounce of effort to reach your goal. Back when I decided to become an astronaut, it was like deciding to become president of the United States. I had to prove I was capable of it, and in that sense, the work and the effort are still paying off. There’s no magic formula for success, but there are certain ingredients that help, such as knowing yourself, your level of education, citizenship, making good choices, sharing your values, and making sure to recharge your batteries once in a while. Anyway, it’s like I say to my son : He should do what he wants in life. The only way he could disappoint me is by doing nothing!
Is there any one event that changed your life more than others?
Every moment of my life has had its effect on me; how could I choose just one, in either my personal or professional life? As an astronaut, I spent years preparing and training. When I went from zero to 28,000 km/h at takeoff, and reached zero gravity eight minutes later, was that my most important moment? Was it maybe going from docking with a small module on my first mission, to a station the size of a football field on the second? Or was it seeing our planet from space? I’ve been very privileged, but I can’t decide on just one event.
It’s often noted that few women choose careers in science. What are your thoughts?
More women are entering the sciences, but not in all domains of science. The further girls progress in their studies, the fewer there are who continue with the sciences. There are various points we need to work on: recruitment, the idea of accommodation, and progression in scientific careers. We also have to work on the image of the field and on stereotypes. We’re quite privileged in Québec—equal opportunity is better encouraged than in other places.