This interview is part of a series of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (find more information on Facebook and Twitter).
#LINO19 young scientist Helena from Czechia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) in Germany. She is an experimental condensed matter physicist with a specialisation on spintronics and spin-caloritronics. Currently, she is interested in spin dependent magneto-thermal transport phenomena in materials with non-trivial spin texture. Enjoy the interview with Helena and get inspired:
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
I was always interested in math, physics and biology and my parents convinced me that studying physics will open a broad variety of career options for me. During my studies I realised that I actually like the academic environment best and I decided for the scientific career path.
Who are your role models?
I admire senior scientists who, regardless their managing duties, can keep contact with scientific work and their students. I’m equally impressed by scientists who regardless of their successes keep a modest and humble altitude. Fortunately, there are many such people in science, as an example I always liked Mildred Dresselhaus.
How did you get to where you are in your career path?
I did my PhD at the Academy of Science in Prague, Czech Republic in the group of Prof. Jungwirth. The friendly and inspirational environment of this group was very important for my decision to pursue a career in science. I consider academic mobility very important for young scientists. I therefore spent one year of my master studies in Strasbourg, France, in the group of Prof. Gilliot and thanks to the Fulbright Fellowship one year of my PhD in Ohio in the group of Prof. Hammel. The broad experience from multiple labs allowed me to define my goal for the postdoc and this lead me to the group of Prof. Goennenwein at TU Dresden, where I work now.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It is very hard to identify the coolest project. However, a project for which my subjective feeling was that it is really cool could be either my master thesis or the first year of my PhD. The reason is that it was for the first time when I had an opportunity to explore something which nobody did before and nobody could predict the outcome of the experiments.
What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?
Anytime I meet a stranger who is familiar with work I participated in and who says “good job”, I feel proud. I believe that science relies on the peer-review principle and it is important that scientists from outside my work environment recognise our work as important, too.
What is a ‘day in the life’ of Helena like?
Fortunately, every day is different and I am very happy for that. On average, the largest part of my day is sitting in front of a computer (to control experiments, analyse data, read/write papers, emails…); the second largest part of my day is meetings (ranging from micro coffee meetings to large colloquiums or conferences). On third place is actual manual work (clean room work, device preparation, laboratory maintenance) or taken by teaching. Important for me is also the time with my family.
What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
My main goal is to keep doing research in an environment I like and where I can see progress and a future. Life-work balance is similarly important to me. To accomplish that I will seek a stable position with nice co-workers and reasonable independence, in the ideal case returning back to my home country.
What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I love to spend time in mountains, climbing/hiking in summer and ski touring in winter. Lately we start to show the mountain sports also to our child and I enjoy that process very much.
What advice do you have for other women interested in science?
Select well the people you work with (group you join for PhD, postdoc). My impression is that majority of female-specific obstacles comes from individual persons; the system is actually often trying to support female scientists (fellowships, quotas). I never experienced any problems because I am female. But this was due to my lucky choice of supervisors and colleagues. They had no prejudices and in a ‘female specific’ situation (maternity leave) they gave me trust and flexibility so I could keep in touch, not feel ‘expelled’ and I could soon return back.
In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics?
When thinking about the answer, I realised how hard is to make predictions beyond my field. In my field of spintronics I could name spin transfer torque in antiferromagnets as an example. However, asking Google the same questions, I got no single answer from condensed matter physics. If I should stick to the popular topics, I would bet on fast development of artificial intelligence due to novel materials and algorithms.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
Many of my female colleagues (often very smart and gifted ladies) left science after they had children. Most of them did not see any other choice. I believe this is the reason why science becomes male dominated on senior level positions. I can imagine few points to improve:
(1) Maximise institutional support of females who want to have children – give them flexibility (grant conditions allowing a break, part time jobs, flexible work hours, financial support for a nanny, institute organised kindergarten),
(2) Present and communicate parenting to the outside as something expected and welcomed; younger females should not see the need to choose between kids or career,
(3) Motivate also the male scientists to take parental leave/part time jobs so that having kids is not seen as a female ‘problem’.