« We were inspired by Berkeley »

First contact when you arrive at Idiap, the secretariat is in charge of the administrative tasks: from human resources to accommodation management for researchers. Departing Nadine Rousseau had to share her 23 years of experience with Laura Coppey.

Coming from Belgium, Nadine Rousseau was reluctant to live in California. Finally, she settled down in Valais in 1996, following her husband. They both participated to Idiap’s growth. Today, Nadine shares her legacy and her knowledge with Laura Coppey, who is taking over her role at the secretariat. Beyond their work and their smiles, the two women share a same dynamic aura they agreed to share during an interview.

In 23 years the institute evolved a lot, how did this evolution impact the secretariat work?

Nadine: At the Villa Tissières (editor’s note: the building where Idiap started), my colleague Sylvie and I were in a small space on the stairs landing on the first floor, sharing a computer and a chair. It created a strong bond and a friendship. We have come a long way since that time!

When we were in Berkeley, my husband and I really appreciated how housing and help upon arrival were prepared prior to our stay. That’s what we wanted to recreate at Idiap. This little extra not only provides a human touch, but also a precious help. It also contributed to develop the secretariat’s work. Today we manage 32 housings with rental agreements signed by the institute and, since 2019, we own nine of them. It’s a constant real estate management. The increasing number of researchers also adds up an important work load: travels, agenda coordination, travel requests, reimbursement requests, etc. It’s a work with a lot of human exchanges, where you can’t remain sitted on a chair. It demands a lot of energy and to be available.

Laura, are you not too scared to take over such a structure?

Laura: No, Nadine is leaving a well-functioning organization. I feel ready. What is impressive to me is the amount of information she is keeping in mind. For example, she knows by heart the inventory of each housing, as well as the name of the people living there. For my part, I plan to document the files with pictures, which will help me to remember the content of each apartment.

I have also observed that we are using different tools for our work: Nadine is more paper oriented, when I am more into the use of computers, but she remains open to new approaches. I am also thinking about solutions to offer a “distance welcome” for new people arriving at Idiap, for example when they arrive during the weekend or a holiday. Until now, Nadine was waiting for them at the railway station or leaving the key at the railway station office.

How is the collaboration going with the researchers in such a multicultural environment?

Nadine: It’s going very well, but the researchers are often in their bubble and sometimes, despite their considerable knowledge, they need help for problems as simple as a light bulb to change or a malfunctioning hotplate. For the other aspects it’s a matter of tact and always with a smile to deliver the message according to the various cultural backgrounds.

Laura: The collaboration is going very well. I really appreciate to work in a multicultural environment, it’s very rewarding. It’s also a real opportunity to practice and improve my English.

Nadine, what is your wish for the future of Idiap?

Nadine: I hope the institute will keep on track and that its evolution will preserve this vision of a unique place. During these 23 years I was really involved, always with a lot of pleasure and giving freely of my time, but I also received a lot in return. Each arrival or departure of a colleague is a moving moment… Idiap will always be something special and unique to me.

Laura: I agree with Nadine regarding Idiap’s future. I really like the large autonomy we can enjoy. You can feel the relationship is based on trust and it motivates to get involved.