‘This fellowship has been incredibly important for my development’

In 2012 Elza van Deel was one of fifteen winners of an international ‘L'Oreal-UNESCO For Woman in Science’-fellowship. In this report she reflects on her yearlong stay in London and the opportunities the fellowship gave her.

As a scientist currently working at the ErasmusMC University in Rotterdam I investigate causes of heart disease. In more detail, I try to understand how components in the body that determine the flexibility of organs influence the development of heart disease, in order to help people with sick hearts. 

For scientists in general, but particularly for young scientists like me, it is very important to get support from fellowships and awards. So while I was finishing my thesis and was thinking about ways to advance my career, I discovered the ‘L'Oreal-UNESCO For Woman in Science’-programme. The fellowship seemed almost perfect to me. Not only did I meet the main criteria – I was a woman and passionate about science – it also allowed me to go abroad, meet lots of new inspiring people and perform my research in one of the best laboratories of the world, at the National Heart and Lung Institute at the Imperial College London. So you can imagine my great joy when I learned I was chosen to be one of the fifteen international fellows for the ‘For Woman in Science’-fellowship of 2012.

Elza van Deel working in the National Heart and Lung Institute in London.

Comfort zone

I ended up spending almost a year in London. And although my tiny apartment reminded me a lot of the room I called home when I was a student, I had a great time working in this exciting city. I collaborated with world-renowned scientists, learned from their insights and could use their state of the art equipment. Additionally, working in this lab helped me to step outside my comfort zone, think outside the box and learn innovating techniques and skills that I was not familiar with before. In science you always remain partly a student and it was great to learn something new almost every day. The opportunities this fellowship gave me, have already been very beneficial for my current research and will definitely continue to be of great advantage in the future.


But there is more. The ‘L'Oreal-UNESCO For Woman in Science’-fellowship is not just any award. Unlike most awards and fellowships, it not only supports your research financially; you become part of a community, a network of woman scientists. This became very clear straight away. Just before receiving the award I got to spend several days with all international young fellows and five great ‘For Woman in Science’-laureates. Besides great fun, it was, very inspiring and encouraging to exchange ideas and thoughts.  Additionally, I was introduced into the Dutch ‘For Woman in Science’-network. As a starting scientist it is really important to be embedded in a network of fellow scientists and to be able to connect, discuss and receive moral and scientific support. 

Team effort

Great discoveries have seldom come from a single person but are mostly the result of a team. Working together definitely enriches variety of insights and approaches. With science still being largely male dominated, the variety in the scientific community is yet a goal to reach. Luckily, programs like the ‘For Woman in Science’-fellowship stimulate female scientists to make a big step forward and develop their careers in science. I for one know that this fellowship has been incredibly important for my development as a scientist.

L'Oreal-UNESCO’s slogan is: ‘The world needs science, science needs women’. I say: woman scientists really need programmes like ‘For Woman in Science’.

Elza van Deel

Professor Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli uit Marokko | Foto: UNESCO/Brigitte Lacombe)

Vrouwen zijn sterk ondervertegenwoordigd in de wetenschap. Wereldwijd is slechts 30% van de wetenschappelijk onderzoekers vrouw. Unesco streeft naar gelijke kansen voor vrouwen en mannen wat betreft toegang tot en deelname aan de wetenschap. Om die reden is in 1998 een wereldwijde samenwerking tot stand gekomen tussen cosmeticaconcern L’Oréal en Unesco. Onder het motto The world needs science and science needs women kent het programma prijzen toe aan excellente vrouwelijke wetenschappers en verleent het beurzen aan jonge vrouwelijke onderzoekers. 


Sinds 1998 hebben meer dan 3000 vrouwelijke wetenschappers uit 117 landen een award of beurs gekregen. Drie winnaars hebben inmiddels een Nobelprijs gewonnen. Elk jaar worden wereldwijd aan 275 getalenteerde jonge vrouwelijke onderzoekers beurzen toegekend om veelbelovend onderzoek te kunnen voortzetten. In Nederland hebben sinds 2007 16 vrouwen een beurs ontvangen.

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