Interview with Clémence Fraslin, winner of the WiSA ‘Academic champion of the year’ award, 2024

Clémence was born in France and grew up in Madagascar before coming back to France for her undergraduate and postgraduate studies. She has an engineering degree from AgroParisTech where she specialised in animal production systems. She then completed a PhD in Animal Genetics from Université Paris Saclay on the genetic basis of rainbow trout resistance to Flavobacterium psychrophilum. After her PhD Clémence stayed in the same lab for a first postdoctoral position to work on spontaneous masculinisation of female rainbow trout and then moved to Scotland in November 2019 to start as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Houston lab and then the Robledo lab at the Roslin Institute, further working on optimising selective breeding to increase fish health and resistance to pathogens.

What does winning the WiSA Award 2024 mean to you? 
I am very honoured to have been nominated for the WiSA award and deeply touched to win it. I’m also proud of it, and proud to have my modest contribution to aquaculture and Scottish aquaculture appreciated and put in the spotlight like that. I am thankful to my colleague who nominated me, and to the panel and WiSA who gave me this award.   

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?  
During my engineering studies in France, I had a couple of classes on aquaculture, and I found it interesting and exciting. The variety of environment, species and production inspired and motivated me to pursue a research career in aquaculture. I think there are a lot of things to do, discover and improve in aquaculture and I like the sense of community and belonging that we have.   

Briefly describe your aquaculture career  
My career started in 2014 with a 6-month internship in a smoked salmon factory in France where I started to be passionate about fish production, and decided I wanted to do a PhD in aquaculture. I did a research internship at Ifremer, a French research institute of the sea, and started my PhD in animal breeding at INRAe on the genetics of disease resistance in rainbow trout. After completing my PhD and first postdoctoral position in France I then moved to Scotland in 2019 to continue as a postdoctoral researcher at the Roslin Institute. My work focuses on understanding the genetic basis (looking for genes) that drive complex traits such as disease resistance. I am also involved in a research project on optimising breeding to select the best fish, again with a focus on disease resistance. 

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?  
It is hard to name only a few individuals because since I started, I have been surrounded by great colleagues who not only inspired me but also helped and supported me. All my former colleagues from France, Mathilde Dupont-Nivet, Florence Phocas and Delphine Lallias were of tremendous help during my PhD and my supervisor, Edwige Quillet, was truly inspirational through her deep knowledge of fish genetics and curiosity about everything. I am really lucky because at the Roslin Institute I am part of a great aquaculture research group with a supportive work environment, and I’m inspired by my former and current colleagues, especially all our PhD students who are passionate about what they do. I hope we never lose that passion, and we keep using it as a driver for better research.   

How important has networking been to your career?  
Networking has played a crucial role, opening doors to me (getting my PhD at INRAE and my postdoc position at the Roslin Institute) and creating research opportunities, with new collaborations arising from networking. I have often taken the opportunity to talk to people at conference events or within research projects. However, I have never felt I was actively networking, I find it difficult to talk to people I’ve never met, and I can be a bit shy at first as I don’t really know what to talk about. But usually, as soon as I talk about my research or other people’s research it becomes easier and I tend to be quite chatty.   

During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues?  
I have noticed that women are underrepresented in academia, mainly at higher ranking positions in aquaculture and in STEM more generally. Often, I was the only woman in the room. I think the first thing we need to do is to point out inequalities when we see them, to raise awareness about them and to change the culture. We need to challenge the unconscious bias people may have. I think we also need to show girls and young women that they can do it too, and that there is a place for them in the aquaculture sector. In that sense I recently did some public engagement with “I’m a scientist, get me out of here”, an online chat with students, and other activities at the Roslin Institute to reach out to students and to give an example of what being a woman in research in aquaculture is like. I think we need more role models. Mentoring is also important, getting advice from senior women can help us give the right direction to our career, and to realise that we are good at what we do, and we deserve more recognition. I think that teaching women how to successfully negotiate promotions and hiring salary is also very important as we often undervalue ourselves.  

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?  
I think that receiving this award might be my proudest aquaculture-related achievement. In my daily work life I try to be a good colleague, a good teammate; I help build a safe space where we can all evolve and grow. I think that being nominated for this “Academic Champion” award by a colleague and winning it is proof that I’m succeeding in this. I’m also very proud of all the collaborations I’ve built so far as it’s an acknowledgement by my peers that I am good at what I do.  

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?  
I can only really give advice on a research career, but I would tell them to be curious and to talk to people as often as possible, people from the aquaculture sector are passionate about their work and I think it’s the best we can do to promote aquaculture. I would also tell them that we can make a difference in how we produce animal protein; aquaculture production has a much lower carbon footprint than terrestrial productions and we are still working on decreasing it and having a “greener” blue economy. Finally, I would say that the aquaculture sector is vast and there are a lot of different opportunities and jobs, they can definitely build a career that makes sense to them.  

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?  
I think we need to develop tighter relationships between industry and research, we need to meet more because research will drive innovation, but we need this innovation to be useful for the industry. We need to join forces for a more sustainable Scottish aquaculture. In that sense I believe that initiatives such as WiSA and the recently created YAS (Young Aquaculture Society) have a great role to play.  

Read more interviews with the WiSA Award winners