Märit from Germany is a neurology resident and postdoc at the Department of Neurology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany.
Her research focuses on imaging-based clinical stroke research and the study of brain reorganisation after stroke and cerebrovascular diseases. The study of the interaction of the heart and brain plays a central role in her projects. One goal is to better understand the relationship between cardiac dysfunction, vascular brain changes, neurodegeneration, and dementia. In the field of brain network organisation after stroke, she investigates whether and how structural brain changes such as stroke lesions impact human decision-making using MRI, EEG, and algorithmic behavior modeling.
Märit participated in the 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Enjoy the interview with Märit and get inspired:
What inspired you to pursue a career in science/in your discipline?
My basic motivation for becoming a neuroscientist was to understand how the brain is organised and how this complex system is disturbed by disease. I have always wanted to observe and understand, and with my research, I want to push the borders of understanding forward. Ultimately, as a clinician, I am driven by the potential to make meaningful advances in the field of neurology and positively impact the lives of patients and their families.
Who are your role models?
I admire scientists who have crossed the boundaries between research and clinical work, thereby deepening our understanding or opening up new ways to treat patients. In my field of research, there are numerous such extraordinary figures who have, for example, advanced the understanding of the pathophysiology of acute ischemic stroke or established novel concepts for the organisation of the brain in structural and functional networks. I especially appreciate it when I realise that these extraordinary scientists at the same time are enthusiastic and empathetic physicians who guide patients and their families through challenging situations in their lives.
How did you get to where you are in your career path?
Inspired by my first scientific supervisor, Prof. Tanja Zeller, I started my doctoral thesis in experimental cardiology. During this work, I was supported by a doctoral scholarship. It was hard work with many setbacks, but in the end, among many other things, Tanja made me understand that good research is not defined by successful results but by always standing by my research question. After finishing my studies, I realised that I missed clinical work in experimental research, so I decided to follow my original interest to become a neurologist and follow the path of a clinician scientist. I joined the Clinical Stroke and Imaging Research group, which focuses on systems neuroscience and clinical trials in stroke. However, I kept the connection to cardiovascular research by establishing a research focus on heart-brain interactions.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Together with international collaborators, I am currently preparing a large international randomised trial addressing the question of whether rhythm control therapy in patients with acute ischemic stroke and early atrial fibrillation is effective in preventing recurrent ischemic stroke and other cardiovascular events. Working on a clinical study is a thrilling and captivating project for several reasons. Firstly, it allows you to contribute to healthcare advancements and potentially improve patient outcomes. Additionally, the interdisciplinary nature of clinical research fosters collaboration among physicians of different disciplines, statisticians, and other professionals, creating a dynamic and stimulating work environment. I really enjoy working together with leading international experts in this field.
What is a “day in the life” of you like?
A typical working day can look very different depending on the current rotation. When I am involved in clinical service, I always fight to find the time to continue my research projects. A typical day on the ward starts with a team meeting with the other staff, followed by ward rounds. Then I see new patients, make plans for diagnostic tests and treatments, and write my notes and discharge letters. The day may be interrupted by research meetings where I discuss with my research colleagues, supervise doctoral students, or see patients in a research context. I usually only find the time to do scientific writing in the late afternoon. I am lucky to have months between my clinical rotations when I am fully dedicated to research, and my daily schedule is more flexible. But I wouldn’t want to miss the interaction between clinical work and my research.
What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I will be happy to continue combining my clinical ambition with my research interests leading my own research group and having a responsible clinical position. I would love to do innovative clinical trials that make a difference in clinical practice.
What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I love spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy sports, especially road cycling with my cycling team and running. A favourite place to be is in the mountains, not only for cycling but also for hiking. I wish the Alps were closer to Hamburg.
What advice do you have for other women interested in science/in your discipline?
Independently from the fact of being a woman, the most important thing I would advise is to pursue your passion. Follow your curiosity and explore the areas of neuroscience that really fascinate you. A great help is to find a (female) mentor and role model to guide and inspire you. It is very important to connect with women already established in your field of science who can offer you valuable insights and support in this field. In this context, building a strong network is important: Attend conferences, join professional organisations, or be part of mentoring programs for female scientists. I think it is the responsibility of every woman in science to advocate for herself and others.
In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/in your discipline?
The field of neuroscience, and especially stroke and dementia research, is on the move, and the last few years have already brought tremendous unforeseen scientific and clinical breakthroughs. New scientific approaches have opened up the possibility of treating and potentially curing catastrophic genetic diseases, and today we can only guess at these possibilities. In addition, for the first time, an approach to treating dementia has led to measurable success and raised hopes for further developments in the field. Finally, after decades of failing to translate neuroprotective treatments from experimental research into clinical stroke care, a better understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and an improved infrastructure for acute treatment have also led to exciting results. In the next few years, effective neuroprotection for acute ischaemic stroke might become a clinical reality.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and professors?
There are many excellent female scientists, and they are likely to prevail in a research world that is still dominated by men. Therefore, in my opinion, specific support programmes for women in research are helpful, e.g., for PhD, postdocs, or professorships. A second important point is dedicated mentoring and the stimulation and support of networks among female scientists. I made very good experiences with a scientific mentoring programme at our university hospital, which connected me with other female scientists at different stages of their careers. Here, I have found friends, help and support with everyday problems or career questions.