Yvonne van der Meer

Professor, Sustainability of Chemicals & Materials

Maastricht University

And - Scientific Co-director

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You do not have to be the number 1 in everything to be successful in STEM. Be proud of your achievements.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I lead a team of researchers that investigate the environmental impact of chemicals and materials. My team also develops tools for companies and governments to support them in reaching sustainability goals, like reducing greenhouse gas missions to combat climate change. I teach these topics to university students and professionals from industry, but I also hold public lectures. Since last year, I am co-director of a research institute. In this role, I recruit new talents and I support our staff to use and develop their talents.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

As I was interested in how organisms are functioning on the smallest level and how food and materials are produced, I studied molecular sciences. I read a lot about environmental issues, like acid rain and water pollution. Nobody in my family was active in this field, but my parents encouraged me to follow my own path. During my Ph.D., I worked on the removal of sulfur compounds from diesel fuel to prevent air pollution. This triggered me to combine chemistry and sustainability to tackle environmental issues. I enjoy research and teaching, but my driver is the actual contribution to a sustainable future.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

If something went wrong or did not work out, I talk to other people to share my feelings and to ask for advice. I shortly think it over and promise myself what I will do differently the next time. Then I move on. I do not give up easily if I am passionate about something. Of course, sometimes I have to let it go, but in many cases am I amazed at what I can achieve by just trying it again.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

It is not a problem if you do not know what kind of career path you will follow. Just think about your next step. What do you like and what are you good at? These are fantastic ingredients to make choices for your future.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

Although I had more talent for languages in high school, I was fascinated by chemistry and I liked to tackle actual problems. During my studies in science and engineering, I worked on food security issues and on preventing harmful emissions from car fuels. I still love to work on tackling complex problems that can solve important societal issues, like climate change and plastic pollution.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

You do not have to be the number 1 in everything to be successful in STEM. Be proud of your achievements and do not give up. If you see an amazing opportunity and you meet 70% of the requirements, do not think too much about the 30%. Believe in yourself and go for it!

INSPIRATION

Quote from Marie Skłodowska-Curie: “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves”

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