Interest and motivation are the most important factors to success (and not gender)
Both in research, teaching and science outreach, I very much enjoy the interaction with my students. Every student is different, and I regard it as a privilege to be a part of each student’s life for a while and to contribute to his/her growth, development and maturation as a scientist and person.
My research group focusses on the mechanism and function of RNA modifications, small chemical alterations of RNA that diversify RNA structure and function. I am interested in understanding how RNA modifications contribute to the fundamental process of gene expression in all cells as well as uncovering the role of RNA modifications in inherited diseases and cancer. It is fascinating to me how a seemingly simple biomolecule such as RNA consisting of only four building blocks can adopt such complex structures and carry out so complex and important tasks in each cell. To reach a comprehensive understanding of RNA and protein mechanism and function, I apply a multi-disciplinary approach combining biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics and transcriptomics using different model systems such as bacteria, archaea and yeast.
Biochemistry is a very versatile field as students obtain a solid foundational knowledge in all science areas paired with strong scientific skills. Of course, biochemistry constitutes an excellent entry point for studies in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science, but I have also trained students entering law or journalism. Moreover, there are many opportunities in research as well as in the biotechnology sector.
Biochemistry is generally a male-dominated discipline at the professional level even though at the undergraduate level men and women are similarly represented. I had to learn as a faculty member to find my own voice and style that ensures I am heard and receive the recognition I deserve without copying others.
First and foremost, I strive to respect and know each individual I am working with recognizing everybody’s strength and uniqueness. In my own research group, I aim to have a balance between male and female trainees as well as Canadian and international trainees, and I foster a supportive and inclusive atmosphere. I also make my colleagues aware of situations that affect diversity during processes such as speaker selection, hiring and promotion.
All men and women, in particular scientists and administrators, have to be well trained in understanding and recognizing the conscious and unconscious barriers to women in science. Only by working closely together and realizing that supporting diversity in science is everybody’s cause will we be able to achieve a culture change that is needed to encourage girls and women to not only enter a science career, but to continue it, in particular when forming a family.
If you are interested and fascinated by a scientific discipline, pursue it! Interest and motivation are the most important factors to success (and not gender). However, it is also important to find role models, peers and supporters who understand and value you as a person in your scientific career. Therefore, you have to approach others actively and to engage in networking opportunities.
I was very fortunate to have three female mentors (a teacher, a research supervisor and an experienced colleague) early on in my career who inspired and helped me in different ways. Later, I have developed a network of colleagues, both male and female, who I can approach for advice. I learned to know whom to ask for what type of advice, to listen and consider advice and criticism very carefully, but ultimately to make my own judgment.