Read a book.

I grew up in a family of six. The first two years of my life I spent on a farm, together with my parents and my brother far away from cities and any technologies. Later, when we moved away to a small village and my parents had to give up the farm due to health reasons, I still spent my early childhood outside in the fields and lakes and we did not even own a TV. In the evenings, we would listen to the radio and sing and dance and just had the best time. I never thought that this was strange and in hindsight I am very happy to have experienced this.  

Already as a little girl I was always curious and asked constantly questions. The typical answer of my father was “Read a book. Then you will find your answer.” So that is what I did. From the moment I learned the alphabet in school, I started reading. All day. Every day. By the time I finished primary school at the age of 11, I had read hundreds of books and still to this day I love reading and learning.

My parents could not afford constantly to buy new books and toys for me, my sister and my brothers, but that did not matter to me. Every week we went to the local library and that was the absolute highlight of my week. Having not much money did not mean, that I could not read more books than in any other child at my school. My teacher told me that I was exceptional and she kept the stories and essays I wrote as a keep sake, when I left the school.

Also, science was a passion of mine from an early age on. For Christmas at the age of seven my parents gave me a little microscope. This microscope was second hand, as my parents could not buy a new one for me, but it was the best gift ever. From that day on I collected everything I could possibly think of as little microscope sample, such as a hair from our dog, or a fly I found in the garden. Everything I saw through the microscope, I drew in my little lab journal and made notes about it. Of course, back then I had no clue, that this was actually a lab journal.

Throughout my time as a teenager my parents kept telling me that I can even go to university one day, when I work hard enough and follow my true calling. Although, I was excelling at school at a younger age, it was more difficult for me, when I got older. My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attempted suicide. My maths and physics teacher called me stupid and said they doubt I will ever go to university and that this is simply nothing for me. Also, the career adviser at school told me that with my grades in maths and physics I will not be able to get into university. My parents told me otherwise, so I applied and got it.

My parents were extremely proud of me, as the first in the family going to university. Unfortunately, they could not support my financially, so I had to work multiple jobs to support myself. There were tough days, where I had no idea how to pay the next time at the supermarket and the only meal I ate was lunch in the Mensa.

I made it through all of this and came out stronger and more resilient. Then I applied for a PhD and Marie Curie Fellowship abroad at Maastricht University. I also completed that one successfully within four years and four weeks, despite my long pregnancy sick leave and my father passing away during that time.

My personal success story continued with the award of the VENI in the Applied Sciences and Engineering Domain, as in fact the only one in this category at Maastricht University. The next three years of my post-doc are funded and more is yet to come.  

People keep telling me that they are amazed that I keep pushing through so many obstacles in my life, while working very hard and being successful in my job. I have to say the reason is that I have been very fortunate growing up with parents, who were showing me at a very early age that failure and struggles are part of life. Facing it and excepting it helped me to adapt and find a way and I know I always will.

Microscopy image from my PhD work


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