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CERN opportunities for STEM* students with disabilities


CERN opportunities for STEM students with disabilities
(Image: CERN)

Every year, CERN welcomes hundreds of students to embark on a unique journey of growth and discovery, guided and coached by supervisors eager to impart the richness of working here. This gives the students the opportunity to build skills, demonstrate those skills to employers and gain work experience in what is a great start to their future career. CERN’s administrative, technical and doctoral student programmes, alongside the short-term internships and flagship summer-student opportunities, make up the vast landscape that demonstrates CERN’s commitment to educating the next generation of scientists. And in recent years, this offering has taken on a new dimension.

Accessibility and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are a key facet of the CERN Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policy. In 2017, CERN was awarded a grant from the European Physical Society for a disability-specific internship programme proposed by the Diversity & Inclusion team at the time. The programme aimed to contribute to the academic and professional development of undergraduate and graduate students with visible and non-visible disabilities while helping the high-energy physics community to increase the diversity of its talent pool. The Organization would also benefit by improving its inclusiveness practices. And the momentum has built: since 2018, six interns have joined CERN thanks to this initiative, through either the short-term internship or technical student programmes, and more are set to join in the near future.

The impact of the initiative is best illustrated in the participants’ own words. “The CERN programme for students with disabilities was a unique opportunity to demonstrate my abilities, to gain confidence. Thanks to my supervisor, I was able to spread my wings, prove my skills, go beyond my disability,” says Mathias, a student in IT. His supervisor, Pawel, notes: “I truly believe that we should be more open towards people with disabilities. The opportunity created a change in Mathias’ life as well as in our lives and in CERN as an Organization. Working together with people with disabilities on common goals requires us to ‘look at the world from a new perspective’, which I consider beneficial.” Axel, another supervisor who guided a student over the course of several months, underlined that “he integrated so well that people took him as what he was: a productive, smart intern. But for me personally, what I'm most proud of is not that ‘we made it’, nor that our student credibly conveyed that he really appreciated his time with us, nor that CERN and the diversity office succeeded with this pilot: it's that the team seems to continuously sense team members’ needs and reacts appropriately and in a welcoming, inclusive and inspiring way.”

The short-term internship programme coordinator, Laetitia Bréavoine, is in direct contact with supervisors and students alike in this context: “I was deeply touched to see how enthusiastic our supervisors were about participating in this programme. The most rewarding thing for me is to witness the joy of students when they find out they have a chance to come to CERN, and I am proud to have helped make it happen.”

The programme was recently recognised by the OECD in its benchmark study of diversity and inclusion, which compared CERN with seven other international organisations. As it goes from strength to strength, Axel sums it up well: “More of that, please: let's start to actively increase diversity!”


If you are interested in taking part as a supervisor in the studentships for people with disabilities, contact diversity.inclusion@cern.ch.

To find out more about the D&I framework for people with disabilities, along with other D&I aspects, visit the D&I website.

*STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics