Markéta you studied at the Technická Univerzita in Liberec. Can you tell us what your Major was and why you chose it?
First of all, thank you for inviting me to this inteview.:) Yes, last year I finished my Master’s degree in Nanotechnology at the Faculty of Mechatronics, Informatics and Interdisciplinary studies. Actually, the reason behind choosing Nanotechnology is that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a living. I always wanted to be an astronaut; a doctor; a plastic surgeon; a dentist and also when I was little I wanted to become the President of the United States and I have absolutely no idea why. 😀 Except being the President of the US, nanotechnology allows me to do everything I would like to. As a nanotechnologist I benefit from my knowledge in technical subjects as well as from my interest in biomedicine. Currently, I am a tissue engineer and a PhD student at the Faculty of Textile Engineering at the Department of Nonwovens and Nanofibrous Materials. I decided to stay at the Technical University of Liberec, because I love the topic and my colleagues are creating the best team I could ever imagine.
What or who motivated and inspired you to join the world of science?
My Ph.D. thesis supervisor RNDr. Jana Horáková, Ph.D definitely! I met her two years ago, when I entered her office and asked for my diploma thesis to focus on nanofibers and medicine. She told me about possible cooperation with the Biomedical centre in Pilsen with the team of doc. MUDr. Václav Liška, Ph.D. I really appreciate her trust: Without really knowing me and my skills she let me develop a nanofibrous patch for improved healing after gastrointestinal surgery, colon cancer treatment and Crohn disease. After that experience, I stayed in the crazy but fantastic world of science where there is always another challenge ahead and I love it!
You have won the Czech Falling Walls Labs and audience prizes in Berlin with your nanopatch invention, correct? Can you tell us bit more about your project: How did you come up with the idea and how was the experience at the Falling Walls competition?
This idea came directly from doctors and surgeons: It is difficult to successfully prevent dangerous leakage from the colon into the abdomen after major surgery such as colon cancer removal. Also, after surgery, adverse connections between tissue or organs which aren’t normally connected can occur and lead to serious complication. My nanopatch has the potential to prevent these complications. The Falling Walls Lab event was … how to describe it … a once in a lifetime experience. I really appreciated the whole idea of bringing together young people from different academic fields for the same purpose: Breaking down walls to address real life problems and creating a brighter future. At the beginning, there were 3000 applicants from around the world with 100 finalists chosen to represent their countries at the Grand Finale in Berlin. I expected a fiercely competitive environment from the first day but surprisingly, it wasn‘t a competition at all. Instead of competing with each other, the other finalists created a friendly and relaxing atmosphere. I felt comfortable during the whole finale and it really proved that science doesn’t have to be a competition but a celebration of amazing ideas and human intelligence.
Are you still working on the nanopatch invention?
Yes, it is my Ph.D. thesis topic: Currently, a team of surgeons from the Biomedical Centre in Pilsen are testing the patch.
What are your professional goals and dreams?
I have one big goal: To see our nanofibrous patch on the market. The continued lack of an effective product still causes complications after colorectal surgery. There is a real need to solve this, so I am working on improving the material properties of the patch and then we would like to do clinical trials. Then it is just a step away from introducing the product to the market.
Now a little bit on a more personal note: Who was your biggest influencer and supporter?
My parents have always been great supporters and my biggest fans. 😀 They check every media mention I get: I will have to show them this interview for sure! JThey supported me, not only financially during my studies but by always creating the conditions for making my university life as easy as possible.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to face as a woman in science?
I don’t think I’ve ever been humiliated because I’m a woman. My teachers, supervisors and professors only ever cared about my proficiency and ideas. This approach was the same for both female and male students and that is how it should be. But I visited some Women in Science events and listened to the stories of other female researchers who faced biases throughout their scientific careers, which I’ve never experienced. I realised that I was lucky and I really wish for the same for every women in science and any other field.
Would you say there is enough support of science in Czech Republic and of women in science?
No. There is definitely not enough support, but this is not about women. It is about the lack of financial support for all Ph.D. students – women as well as men – and also for our supervisors, mentors and lecturers. The monthly salary is ridiculous, even after it was recently increased. I am doing this because I care about this topic, I believe in it and I want to help, however, this is also a job. Most of our Ph.D. students are working part time such as in shops or cafes, to top up their earnings and make ends meet. You know, still being a student doesn’t mean you are still a kid. If everything continues well, I am going to complete my Ph.D. at the age of 28. We also need to care about creating stable conditions for our future family life, just as my parents created for me.
On that note, if you could change something about science education in the Czech Republic, what would it be?
Less memorizing; more logical thinking; more bridges between different topics.
Do you think there are enough girls studying science in the Czech Republic? Do you think the number of girls and women deciding to study sciences, is increasing?
No, I don’t think so. I started my university studies 6 years ago. During the welcome ceremony, you could already see the ratio: There were about 120 men to 10 women. But I feel like the situation is starting to change thanks to the Women in Science support and organizations such as Czechitas, which encourages girls in IT and showing that technical subjects are great for women.
If you could inspire one girl or woman today to follow her professional aspirations in whatever industry, what would your advice be to her?
Don’t be afraid to do whatever you want to. Even if you are not sure, what you would like to become in the future (same as me :D), just start anywhere and you will find out the amazing possibilities offered by the world of science and technology. My secret tips are (and I promise, this pays off and is the real way to success) always be hardworking, kind, open-minded and open-hearted; work with passion, be cheerful to others and avoid negativism and everything else comes as a natural consequence.
Why do you think more girls and women should study science?
Because of the diversity. The diversity at the Falling Walls Lab in Berlin was insane. So many cultures; so many different stories and brilliant ideas. Seeing what the finalists brought to the table was incredibly powerful! Of course, another reason is that women make up half of the human population and for example, in the IT field, 50% of IT teams are definitely not female: It is far less. Nowadays, nearly everybody uses smart phones and often, I experience Apps or features that really aren’t “women friendly”. It is in the best interest of IT companies to involve more women in the creation of their products.