Name: Cristina Palacios Mateo (27, Tudela, Spain) * Day job: PhD student at the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering) * Lives in: Maastricht * Civil status: is in a relationship
Greta Thunberg is my idol. Why not, she has achieved so much at such a young age. When I started my PhD in 2019, I expected to meet more people like me at the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials: with a heart for sustainability and passion for working towards a better world for tomorrow. Some colleagues are indeed like that, but by no means all. So, I went looking for people like that outside my work. Maastricht has many organisations that focus on sustainability. I decided to join Precious Plastic Maastricht. In October 2020, we participated in the Young Plastic Pollution Challenge, a competition to submit ideas to reduce the use of plastic, with our project BioMaas. We want to make degradable disposable cups and bowls from waste matter, such as orange peels and coffee sediment. In January, we heard that we had won. We have two years to spend the prize money of 50 thousand euro. The first bowls have already been made. We want to sell them to local restaurants. There is a lot to take into consideration when turning an idea into a business. Fortunately, the Young Plastic Pollution Challenge has also provided a business coach.
Favourite dish? Paella, a classic Spanish dish. The longer I am away from Spain, the more I miss it. I came to Belgium for my master’s thesis at the research centre VITO in Mol and have now been living in Maastricht for a year and a half doing my PhD. In a couple of months’ time, my boyfriend and I will move in together and live in Hasselt. That is exactly halfway between my work and his. I like it here; I don’t see myself moving back to Spain any time soon.
What do you never wish to experience again? I lived in Barcelona for two years, one year to complete my bachelor’s and one year to work. I had a couple of temporary jobs; all outside my field, none of them very interesting. I had to keep starting over, sometimes feeling lonely. Added to that was the fact that Barcelona is a very expensive city. You pay six hundred euro rent for a very tiny room without a window. While the average salary is about 700-900 euro per month. All of your money is spent on that, local people just can’t afford it, as is the case in almost every big city. I never want to be in that position again.
Cristina as a child. I was very curious, creative, impatient and restless. I was always climbing on things, and then I fell off and broke a leg. Even back then, I wanted to know how the world was. That eventually led me to science. As well as a very good biology teacher, who was very wise and kind. But I am also passionate about creating art. I paint and draw and have recently started making sculptures from clay.
Guilty pleasure? Tacos. I used to always cook, but since I met my boyfriend, we order in through sheer laziness more often than I really want to. I like cooking but not when I am tired and don’t have much time. We do try to make a couple of meals on Sunday for the rest of the week.
I have to work harder than my male colleagues. Up until now, no, but you do see the higher you rise the fewer women there are. When I just started my PhD, I had a couple of meetings with people from the industry. I do research into a new method of recycling textile, using enzymes. I was the only woman at the table, the others were all white males of around 50-60 years old. One of them made a joke about how this whole eco trend had now really gotten out of hand. Everyone laughed, I was shocked. These people grew up in the fossil-fuel era. They are used to thinking in terms of profit and not the consequences for the environment and society. This top layer must become more diverse, we need to have other perspectives on the table. That’s why I have decided to run for Faculty Council.
If I can’t exercise, I get cranky. No, not at all. As a child I was very active. I wanted to try out all the different sports, but that wasn’t possible, because we lived in a small village and there was hardly anything to do there. Now I like to climb and cycle, but I don’t have a routine.
The most difficult thing about living abroad. The language barrier. I can’t just start a conversation with someone who I meet on the street. Fortunately, most people here speak English, but I can’t express myself in English as well as I can in Spanish. I am learning Dutch. I did also try to learn German, because my boyfriend is German, but that became too confusing. It is too similar to Dutch, while at the same time it is very different.
Dream holiday? For me it is not so much about the place where you go, but about your mindset when you are on holiday. More relaxed, happier. I have travelled quite a bit. When I was a student, I also worked and saved so I could travel. That feeling that you get being able to go somewhere using the money that you earned, is fantastic. I have seen the Northern lights in Norway, the desert in Jordan and Israel and I have been to Cambodia. I do think that COVID-19 has changed tourism. We appreciate the things in our own neighbourhood more. My next trip won’t be very far away, I want to discover the rest of the Netherlands and neighbouring countries first.
With a time machine I would travel to… the future, maybe one hundred years in the future. [Grinning] Just to see if mankind has made it.