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Planning a Career: Find someone you trust and go ahead

Dr. Anouk Rijs is a professor by heart. “I never had any doubts that it is possible as a female scientist to become a professor. And I think it is really good for students to see that a career in academia is possible,” the assistant professor of advanced spectroscopy and physical chemistry in the Faculty of Science of Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, says.


Dr. Anouk Rijs has already started an experiment in Hamburg. Credit: CUI

Together with Prof. Roseanne Sension (University of Michigan) Dr. Rijs received the Mildred Dresselhaus Award 2014, which is given each year by CUI to two internationally outstanding female scientists. In addition to the prize money, it is combined with research and teaching stays at CUI – with the aim to bring international role models for female scientists to Hamburg among others.

When Anouk Rijs studied chemistry at the Free University of Amsterdam, it was normal to have a male world: “That’s how it was. But there was one female professor as well. So I thought everybody can do what suits him or her most.” After receiving her master’s degree, she checked advertisements in industry and academia, realizing the interesting jobs all required a PhD. So she did her PhD at the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam, thus combining the two different fields of ultrafast spectroscopy and electron detection to study atmospheric questions and reaction dynamics. At an early stage in her career, her supervisor, who was like a mentor, recommended her to find her own funding. So Anouk Rijs obtained a Postdoc Position within a European Network Program at the University of Santa Barbara in California. She loved learning a lot about new techniques and when she returned to the Netherlands after three years she was a pioneer in the field of bringing large molecules into the gas phase.

Becoming aware of necessary steps

Today as an Assistant Professor she sees herself more and more as a role model. When asked, she recommends students to find someone they trust, maybe even from other disciplines, to make them aware of the steps they are taking. Anouk Rijs herself checked the career paths of scientists in her field to find out what is important at which point in a career. Rijs: “And don’t think you’re the only one who doubts. Discuss your doubts with your mentor and then – if you really want it – do it.”

Anouk Rijs’ aim is to become a full professor, perform great research, to teach more students and thereby to fill the same role as her professors did for her. Her immediate plans within the Mildred Dresselhaus Program are to continue the experiments she has already started with Dr. Melanie Schnell and to learn really new techniques in collaboration with Prof. Arwen Pearson and Prof. Henry Chapman. ”In my research in Nijmegen we zoom into the heart of the proteins to see how things interact, how molecular recognition is established,” she explains. “In Hamburg I want to connect the local, zoomed in picture to the functioning and global scale to understand how for example binding and conversion of ATP, our energy molecule, effect the structure of the entire protein.” So her stay will strengthen the research activities in Hamburg in the field of molecular recognition and time-resolved analysis of the dynamics of biomolecular systems. Anouk Rijs: “I am really happy about this position and I am very much looking forward to my research stays in Hamburg in spring and in autumn“.