What do you do?
I work in the lab with breast cancer tumors, unraveling the epigenetics that drive them. Epigenetics is a layer on top of the DNA, that switches genes on and off, in response to environmental factors. By figuring out how this mechanism of switching genes on and off works, we can deliberately change gene patterns. This knowledge we can use in many different diseases by switching on good or healthy genes and switching off bad or diseased genes. Because epigenetics is a layer on top of the DNA, nothing is changed in the blueprint of what we inherit from our parents, which might imply less ethical concerns.
Why did you choose this field?
When I was in high school I first learned about genetics from my Biology teacher "Misses Gielen". I was so fascinated about how such small DNA molecules, contain such an astonishing amount of information and how big the impact of DNA and genes can be on a person and their health! During my university studies of "Biomedical Sciences" I learned that there was an even smaller layer on top of the DNA, that determines what happens to the genes (are they expressed or not, are they very abundant in the body or are there just a few copies, ...). This is when I fell in love with Epigenetics, and decided to dedicate my twenties to figure out as much as I could about this brand new science branch.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I've always been a very opinionated person, but at he same time I was ashamed of letting my voice be heard. "I didn't know well enough to speak up, I wasn't important enough, And on top of that public speaking with a speech limitation is embracing". These would be thoughts that I had as a young woman, so I didn't speak up. After doing an internship abroad where I had to speak up to make a bit of a network, all of this changed. I found people with the same passion for communicating and we would practice and train together. We would make each other shine and rise to our full potential. By speaking up about things that mattered to me I met more and more people with the same ideas and values, and together we would reach out even further. This made me realize that NO-ONE should be silenced because of fear or shame, EVERYONE with an idea worth spreading should get a chance to speak up. Connect with people that can help you, people that share the same passion and grow from there. Because by reaching out and learning from each other so much more can be accomplished.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love trying to make a difference in the world by doing science. As a researcher in the lab doing very fundamental research, sometimes you lose touch with why you are doing what you are doing. When that happens I start talking to doctors, patience or fellow scientists that have been touched by my research topic, reminding me why it's worth it. But more importantly what I really love getting up for is to share my passion for science communication and to encourage others to do the same. The best feeling in the world is when they then come up to me later to share their outreach activities and results that it brings them: connecting with others and hearing their importance.
Best advice for next generation?
Follow your heart! Science is a beautiful, mysterious and fascinating field where there is so much to discover. Find out what it is that interests you the most, what excites you and don't be afraid to pursue it. When you start speaking out and connect to people with a similar passion (aka mentors) a new world will open for you. Your passion is worthy to be followed, you are the perfect person to follow your dreams, and the sky is not even the limit, but you have to speak out, don't be afraid to let your voice be heard and make your own future!
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
The X-men and their mutants are probably the roots for my passion for genetics. I was inspired by the facts that small changes in a 4-letter code could lead to such huge impacts! Basically it made me believe that in essence anyone could become a superhero, so I did! A small town - science communicating - superhero!