AC: Tell us about your passion for the work and for the things that you are doing now.

Marzena Wojtaszewska: I’ve always been fascinated by nature! I still have a collection of feathers, seashells and animal drawings from my early childhood. My passion for biology slowly transformed into love for genetics and biotechnology. Uncovering the patterns of inheritance and origins of genetic diseases (including cancer!) is like discovering a completely new Universe! The more you know, the more you have to learn! And you’re working for the sake of humanity and people. It is tremendously exciting!

Elżbieta Kaja: In my childhood I had many interests and ideas for the future. I wanted to become an athlete, dancer, medical doctor, physiotherapist and finally a scientist. I was collecting many diverse experiences, which helped me choose the most interesting field in science, which is biology. In Biology the most fascinating is the connection between classical, old fashioned science and the cutting edge technologies. Since I got the opportunity to use the knowledge for the good of people, my passion for science has gained a new shape.

AC: Have you been satisfied finally getting a PhD degree?

Weronika Majer-Burman: Now I can say that yes, it gave me satisfaction. Although, the path was really hard and very frustrating and therefore, the joy that I felt when I defended my PhD thesis wasn’t as great as I had imagined it. However, I do not regret my decision to start a PhD, it allowed me to evolve as a scientist.

Paula Dobosz: In terms of my PhD, I actually tried more than once. And it was such a long way that I felt rather relieved at the end, and many times I had been losing my faith I would ever achieve this! But in terms of my development, not only scientific development, I cannot imagine my life without it. It’s an integral piece of myself, constant improvement and learning new abilities, gaining new information, broadening horizons. In line with The Red Queen Hypothesis if you stop, you actually start to back away. So, unceasingly I try to run forward and I love it. 

AC: Do you regret leaving the academic community?

Katarzyna Ginda-Makela: No, although I also don’t feel like I have left academia fully – I still keep in touch or collaborate with people I met at the universities I worked with. This allows me to follow the latest news from the field, but also know about the challenges that scientists come across. 

I have decided to leave academia during my postdoctoral research in Oxford, where I have realised how many young companies need employees with a scientific background interested in commercialisation. My current role is also better matched with my personality 🙂

Aleksandra Szopa: Not anymore, although for a long time it was difficult for me to come to terms with it because my life plan conceived in high school was such that I would die a professor. To this day, I sometimes dream that I’m in the lab again! However, it is not surprising that after delving into the environment, you start to notice its shortcomings, stupid difficulties, cliques, ossified systems, authorities collapse – I could go on – and next to ideals, dreams and great plans doubts, bitterness and fears appear. At some point you just have to do a reality check – do I want to be a part of it? Is this the way for me? Am I ready for the sacrifices it takes to be a scientist? But also at the same time – am I good enough to contribute something meaningful? What do I have to offer science? And probably in many cases – do I do it because I really want it or to meet the expectations of my parents or my close ones? I think it is extremely important to be honest with yourself when answering these questions.

Even though I am not directly involved in science at present, its sheer closeness in my professional life makes me very happy. And most importantly – this science, which I am close to now, is used in practice, it really helps.

I enjoyed very much conducting classes with students. In this particular aspect I miss the former strictly academic environment.

AC: Can you shortly compare academic and commercial environment from your perspective?

Katarzyna Ginda-Makela: Academic experience gave me a broad skillset and allowed me to meet inspiring, brilliant people. Working in a commercial environment made me understand how to meet customers needs and gave me the satisfaction of providing tangible solutions.

Elżbieta Kaja: Academia not only taught me essential laboratory skills but also gave me the opportunity to discuss with smart people and travel to many exciting places. In the case of commercial experience, I’m at the beginning of this journey. Working in the company requires strong.

AC: Is it more difficult for women to be successful in science?

Paula Dobosz: Definitely. Even though over a hundred years has passed since women are allowed to study at the universities, there are still huge discrepancies clearly visible in wages, as well as the number of female representatives in Academia, in higher business headships or even in the government. I’m certain each of us could dish up several examples of discrimination we’ve personally experienced. But this is changing, slowly but surely, and the most wonderful example I can imagine is our MNM: we have more female employees in general, and most of our Board Members are females too! 🙂 

Marzena Wojtaszewska: Much changed since women were prohibited to vote, study and research, but there is still room for much improvement. You may still see more male surnames in scientific papers and women still hold fewer senior faculty positions than men in Academia. Some inequalities are a consequence of motherhood for sure- I had a two-year gap in my scientific career when I was caring for my babies as most mother scientists.  But I am confident that success in science is easier than ever for women and I hope in XXI st Century the only criterion for peer-review would be the quality of research, not author’s gender.

AC: What is your the greatest personal success?

Marzena Wojtaszewska: Quite modest, I am most proud of being a high class specialist in the field of medical genetics, which I love.

Aleksandra Szopa: There are plenty of them all the time (yes, plural!). Each overcoming of my own weaknesses, fears, anxieties, lack of self-confidence is my huge personal success. Achieving them on a regular basis opens the way to be successful in other fields. Therefore, those I consider my greatest. With them, I can do anything. 

Paula Dobosz: I’m still alive 🙂 It might sound trivial, but having done so many things in my life I guess that’s an achievement, a gift in itself, trying to get as much as I can from every day given to me. Moreover, I’m a Cambridge University MedSchool alumna and I’m relentlessly happy I’ve done this, above all. But the biggest success is yet to come, since I definitely prefer to think about the future, not about the past events.

Katarzyna Ginda-Makela: I’m proud of my continuous development and engagement in a variety of projects. 

Elżbieta Kaja: My greatest personal success is the preparation and defence of PhD dissertation when raising two small kids at the same time.

Weronika Majer-Burman: My greatest personal success (and I hope that it is only beginning) is the defense of my PhD thesis. However, I think that even bigger accomplishments than PhD defense itself were how much I learned during it and that I did not quit despite the obstacles. 

AC: What are your scientific authorities?

Elżbieta Kaja: My first scientific authority was prof. Zofia Szweykowska-Kulińska, who I met in my third year of studies. She impressed me with her passion for the subject, her knowledge and the way she taught. Nowadays, I also admire women, who work in the best scientific groups in the world, such as the Nobel Prize winner, Jennifer Doudna. I appreciate many years of her hard work, determination and competence, taking into consideration the fact that she is also a mother. As a mother of three small kids, I know how hard it is to play such different roles every single day.

Weronika Majer-Burman: A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a lecture conducted by Ada E. Yonath, followed by a meeting with her. She talked about her work and career. I remember how impressed I was with her persistence in achieving the goal, despite many years of research, which for a long time did not give the desired result. Her research about mapping the structure of the ribosome was ridiculed by her scientific environment and called unrealistic, but she did not resign and after many years of hard work she accomplished her goal for which she won a Nobel Award for it.

Marzena Wojtaszewska: The iconic Barbara McClintock. The woman, who aimed for scientific true headstrongly and stubbornly, not intimidated by misogyny and chauvinism which were narrowing her learning and career opportunities. She was like a tank, unstoppable. We know her for her horizontal gene transfer discovery, but her feats are much more impressive. She has discovered a BFB amplification mechanism, ring chromosomes, poliploidy, she was the first to draw a genome map. She described the protective role of telomeres and much more. Her transposition discovery was so revolutionary, it was neglected for almost 20 years. She was a true pioneer and what is most amazing for me, she has deduced all of this from chromosomes of mediocre quality. For me, she is Marie Skłodowska of genomics.

Paula Dobosz: My israeli supervisor Prof. Yechezkel Sidi, because he’s a role model comprising all those traits we think of when we contemplate a wonderful scientist, extraordinary doctor and great human being. He always had time for everyone and everything, nobody was ever left without help if needed.

Aleksandra Szopa: Prof. Jennifer A. Doudna – she was the main collaborator of the first “serious” scientific article I have read. It was love at first reading, and I was delighted to hear that she had received the 2020 Nobel Prize, in my opinion, well deserved.

Dr Agata Tyczewska – my supervisor during the research for my master’s thesis, she has guided me not only with her tremendous knowledge of the subject matter, but also supported me emotionally during the doctorate. Thank you, Ag! 

Katarzyna Ginda Makela: Albert-László Barabási – for a very interesting selection of research topics, Maria Skłodowska-Curie for persistence and – on a daily basis – my husband, for extensive knowledge and a multidimensional approach to the analyzed issues.

AC: If you had an opportunity to choose your career path once more, would you go in the same direction?

Weronika Majer-Burman: I believe I would make that decision again. The Science path is certainly not an easy path, and at many points, it is extremely frustrating. On the other hand, in retrospect, it gives immense satisfaction and is an ideal path for people who are curious about the world and who like to discover the processes that control it.

Aleksandra Szopa: Yes. Without a doubt. However, if I could walk this path knowing all I know now, I would have handled some things differently. I think there would have been more courage and confidence in my actions. I would have made a few decisions differently. I think I would have benefited more as a scientist this way and perhaps given more to the world of science.