“I have seen women take on more masculine behaviours to succeed. I am passionate about my research, but if moving ahead means compromising some of my values, I would find this very difficult on a personal and professional level”
I hold an undergraduate degree in Biopharmaceutical Sciences from Leiden University and a PhD from Delft University of Technology, both in the Netherlands. My PhD research between the Kluyver Institute for Biotechnology in Delft and at the Institute de Microtechnique (IMT) at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland, specializing in miniaturized total analysis systems (µTAS). After my PhD, I was awarded a fellowship from the Dutch Science and Technology Foundation STW to initiate Lab on a Chip research at the University of Tasmania (µTAS@UTAS). I subsequently received a 4 year Australian Research Council (ARC) postdoctoral fellowship, and was appointed in the UTAS School of Medicine in 2011.
I have been successful in obtaining research funding, and currently hold ARC Discovery and Linkage grants, and I am part of an ARC Training Centre (ASTECH). In 2014, I received an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers to conduct my research at the Korean Institute for Science and Technology – Europe in Saarbrücken, Germany and relocated my family for a year. My output includes 69 articles in peer-reviewed journals with an average impact factor over 4; 45% of my publications are in the top 10% in their field (H-index 22).
My research strength is to use technology to connect disciplines, and my main focus is on the development of portable analytical instrumentation for point of care diagnostics and therapeutic drug monitoring, environmental analysis and counter-terrorism purposes. I have additional interests in neuroscience and alternative fabrication methods, including 3D printing.
Outside my academic research, I initiated a study implementing gratitude practice in the student-supervisor relationship, with outcomes confirming enhanced productivity and reduced stress levels and I led an inclusive study exploring the impact of parenting on academic career progression across disciplines and academic levels.
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
I remember my PhD supervisor had a picture in her office with a frog in the beak of a bird, saying ‘never give up’. I don’t give up easily, especially when my personal values (honesty, fairness) have been compromised, or when I committed to something. And I love my research and seeing research students grow.
How do we keep more females engaged in scientific careers? How do we retain women?
Make women feel appreciated, valued and supported to move ahead. Appreciation should also be reflected in the decision-making around leadership positions, as women are less likely to self-select. Trust and support will help alleviate self-doubt and the imposter syndrome, build confidence in the future and stop the women from running away.
What one thing can do you feel that all (public and scientists) can do to most help the position of women in (Australian) Science?
Accepting that women are different and complementary to men. Complementary means different, and hence cannot be measured using the same criteria – like we cannot easily compare apples and bananas. Most current measures of leadership are based on the task-oriented and directive ‘masculine’ leadership styles, and less appreciative of the people-oriented collaborative ‘feminine’ leadership styles. Understanding and communicating the strength that complementary leadership styles brings to the scientific community will open new opportunities in areas where women perform best. The challenge here is to ensure that diverse leadership styles are given an equal opportunity in decision-making processes that lead to promotion and appointment. Currently, the preferential selection of masculine leaders inherently diminishes the potential value of complementary leadership and ideas.
If you have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time– what helped you the most?
I had three children (2006, 2008 and 2010) and took 6 months of maternity leave for all three. During my leave, I came to University once a week to catch up with my students and to stay in touch with research activities (I was on a research fellowship). This way I maintained visibility with my colleagues and students, and publications continued to flow.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely reconsider staying in academia for as long as I have. Most women leave academia mid-career. Retraining and/or a transition to industry research is very challenging. I have seen women take on more masculine behaviours to succeed. I am passionate about my research, but if moving ahead means compromising some of my values, I would find this very difficult on a personal and professional level.