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“Struggles are part of life and it is okay to speak out”

“Struggles are part of life and it is okay to speak out” “Struggles are part of life and it is okay to speak out”

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Illustration Simone Golob/ photo: Thom Frijns

International Women’s Day 2021: Anna Schueth

Four women from various faculties. What do they think about International Women’s Day? Is it still necessary to take time out on 8 March to think about the (unequal) opportunities for women? Who was or is their role model? This time it is Anna Schueth (39), postdoc at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences/Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre.

Who was a role model in your youth?

“When I was a little girl and pretty much all my life, I saw my father working hard and getting up every day at 5 o’clock in the morning – he was a farmer. For the first two years of my life, we lived on a farm. I never heard him say ‘I don't feel like it’. Hard work was always part of his life and he also told me every day: ‘Anna, whatever you choose to do, work hard and do your best. Read. Be curious. Then you will succeed’. So, that was a role model for me and I have kept working hard all my life, in high school, as a student and now as a scientist. I am very sad that my father could not be there at my PhD ceremony. He was sick for many years, fell into a coma before the day of the ceremony and passed away.
“The other role models in my life were my mother and my grandmother. I saw my mother struggle with her mental health and bipolar disorder all her life and at times this was traumatic for me. But she kept going and I learned from her that struggles are part of life and it is okay to speak out. We talked openly about everything. My grandmother, whom I also loved dearly, taught me to be grateful and said: ‘Be grateful for your health. As long as your legs can carry you, walk and as long as you can see, read. Use your voice. Be kind.’
“All of these three people told me or showed me that I matter and I can follow my dreams, as long as I try to keep going. Then nothing will stop me. And here we are, years later, and I could not feel more blessed with the life I have as a successful scientist and mother of two.”

Best (or worst) unsolicited advice you received from a man or woman:

"I think actions speak louder than words. The support I have received during my PhD and my postdoc in some of the darkest moments of my life, is something that has impacted me to this day. When my father passed away during my PhD and I lost a baby during my postdoc, my two male supervisors have been nothing but supportive and gave me the time I needed to heal. A little kindness goes a long way. Moreover, my PhD supervisor told me: ‘Anna, just do it, don’t overthink it too much’, when he saw me struggling writing my PhD thesis, while taking care of a little baby. That was great advice and I stopped my striving for extreme perfectionism.
“Another great piece of advice I got from a woman, while working in Germany and doubting whether I should apply for a PhD position abroad. She told me: ‘Go for it. You have what it takes’. If it were not for her, I would not work here today. That is exactly what is needed, women supporting women and helping each other out. Last but not least, I would like to mention my dear friend and former colleague Amrapali Zaveri, who passed away in 2020. On my blog annaschueth.com I wrote a letter to her. She showed me that with a positive outlook on life everything is easier and that by working in an interdisciplinary team we can achieve so much more than without each other. I am deeply saddened that she can no longer follow her vision of building bridges and promoting open science, sharing knowledge with each other. That was a true passion for hers.” (see box)

What do women struggle the most with during their careers?

“Everyone is unique and so is every woman. There is no such thing as ‘what most women go through’. However, there is something that is affecting a lot of women. Many have either struggled to get pregnant, went through years of fertility treatments, decided not to have children, cannot have children due to health reasons, have various pregnancy complications, have lost a baby during pregnancy, had a still-born baby, have to take care of a sick child, deal with caring responsibilities every day and also mom guilt. I myself had very difficult pregnancies every time, lost one child at eleven weeks and had to deal with questions from colleagues like ‘so, when will you have your second child?’. These comments hurt and it is not okay to ask.
“I talked to so many people at work and with friends who suffered in silence and went through something similar. I decided to not only raise awareness for mental health, but also for stigma, such as miscarriages. Therefore, I started my blog at the end of February 2021. I have received many inspirational stories from both men and women from all over the world. I am very grateful for everyone’s trust to share their stories with me.”

Anna Schueth

Amrapali Zaveri Award

On Tuesday, 9 March, Anna Schueth was awarded the first Amrapali Zaveri Award for Early Career Data Scientist. The prize was presented during the UM’s online Women in Data Science conference. Zaveri, who suddenly passed away in 2020, was a great advocate of diversity in data sciences. She was one of the initiators of the first Women in Data Science event at the UM in 2020. The prize is 1,500 euro (paid from the Limburg University Fund). Schueth wants to spend the money on a series of educational events. She also wishes for 'teenager editions', which will be done in corporation with local schools and have the goal to talk with classes about data science, microscopy and brain science and give them insights into the “life of a scientist”, including virtual lab tours and interactive sessions.
 

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on 8 March. It stands for women’s solidarity and empowerment. The very first celebration of Women’s Day, internationally, was in 1911. More and more women were standing up for their rights, among others in the fields of employment and voting rights. The Netherlands has celebrated the day since 1912. A different theme is chosen each year. This year it is Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. At Maastricht University, FEM, Pint of Science, and Anna Schueth (a postdoc at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences) organised the Women Researchers’ Festival last Monday. Sixteen female researchers presented their research.

Anna Schueth (anna.schueth@maastrichtuniversity.nl) wrote the answers to the questions herself.

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