‘The L'Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship really opens up new doors’

REPORT – Femke Nijboer won a 2015 Dutch L'Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship which gave her the opportunity to spend five months at NIAS-KNAW in Amsterdam, where she could indulge in reading, writing and exchanging ideas with fellow scientific researchers.

In June 2015 I was out my with colleagues on our yearly department field trip when I received a phone call from Marike Bontenbal from UNESCO that I was going to be awarded with a l’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship for a 5-month stay at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS) in Amsterdam. Marike was not able to see it through the phone, but I was literally dancing on the street in the city center of Leiden, and my colleagues, who quickly understood what was happening, were dancing around me. I was thrilled to receive this news and the chance could not have come at a better moment for me.

Personal importance of the fellowship

In 2012 I started my NWO-funded Veni project on involving end-users in the design process of brain-computer interfaces and I had collected wonderful and unique data from people with locked-in syndrome, neuro-engineers and healthcare professionals. However, life was also happening and I also had two babies since the beginning of my Veni project. I was struggling to find time to write the papers about the studies between diaper changing, nursing and my other work obligations. The highly interdisciplinary and novel studies I had done were difficult to write up and I longed to find sufficient time to reflect on the right words and framework to describe the outcome. While I was able to build up momentum in my career by myself, the fellowship enabled me to fully use that momentum and make my work visible to others with thoughtful wording and nuance. Because of my Veni project and the fellowship, the board of Leiden University nominated me as a candidate for the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. I was also invited to give a key note lecture to open the academic year of the Honours Academy of Leiden University. Thus, the award and the fellowship really open up new doors for you and can give you, as a woman with many roles in life, some space and time to position yourself.

The stay at NIAS itself

In September 2016 I started my fellowship at NIAS together with fellows from all over the world and from many disciplines. We were the first fellows to reside at the new NIAS location in the St. Joris building in Amsterdam. We were welcomed so kindly and all received a simple, elegant and – most important - quiet office to work in. Every day fellows share a delicious lunch together prepared and served by Hassan in the lunch room. While writing was my goal at NIAS, the interactions with the other fellows during lunch, seminars and workshops soon became a new source of inspiration and energy for me. I learned about the fascinating anthropological, historical, political, astrophysical, linguistic studies of my fellows and was reinforced in my belief in the importance of gamma sciences for the beta sciences. The time away from my own university, colleagues and students, allowed me to reflect on my many new ideas, to determine which ones are most interesting to myself, most valuable and promising to continue. At NIAS you can always find fellows willing to listen to your research ideas or concerns about how to develop those ideas into funded (!) research lines. After work we often met up for drinks, meals and social events and I have made quite a few new friends from for example Pakistan, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Places to go

My favorite place in the building is the library, because of its beauty, its comfortable chairs and light. My second favorite place in the building was the lunch room because of the delicious food we served. Finally, I would recommend new fellows to walk a lot through Amsterdam. The city stole my heart!

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. 

Results

Sinds 1998 hebben meer dan 2250 vrouwelijke wetenschappers uit 110 landen een award of beurs gekregen. Twee winnaars hebben inmiddels een Nobelprijs gewonnen. Elk jaar worden wereldwijd aan 236 getalenteerde jonge vrouwelijke onderzoekers beurzen toegekend om veelbelovend onderzoek te kunnen voortzetten. In Nederland hebben sinds 2012 zeven vrouwen een beurs ontvangen.

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