Young Women of Geoscience (YWOG)


“Stick to what you love and you will reach the stars”- Meet Sanja Selakovic, Postdoc

What is your role or function at Utrecht University?

I am a post-doctoral researcher, but I see my role as not simply a researcher but also as a group motivator. I also love to collaborate with others in my department. This is one of my favourite aspects of my job.

What made you decide to become a scientist?

I always loved science, but I started really pursuing science when I was 16. In Serbia, there is a scientific centre Petnica which focuses on educating elementary school students and high school students. For this programme I picked biology and indeed ecology when I was 16 years old. After one hydroecology summer school I decided I want to work on zooplankton species. From that moment, I had a focus on ecology but I also changed topics many times.  As I met different people working on different topics I would work with whoever inspired me the most and from whom I thought I could learn the most.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the distribution of different functional groups of species who are affecting sediment dynamics in different ways, by stabilizing or destabilizing estuarine sediment. Stabilizers include different species of vegetation whilst destabilizers include different macrobenthic species. Next to that, I work on collaborations about ecological networks and disease dynamics.

Are there many women in your field of study?

I have met several women in the field of sediment stabilizers/destabilizers, and also several in the topic of ecological networks and disease dynamics. I have encountered them at conferences, for example at the annual American Geophysical Union conference and NetSci. There are still not enough women scientists. You can best see that when you look at the lists of main speakers at the conferences and summer schools- there are always the same women. In the last few years, you can usually join networking drinks for females at the conferences. I recommend it as a perfect place where you can go and have an informal conversation with your ‘role model’.

I have my female ‘role model’ mentor. While I was a PhD student, I read one of her papers and just loved its ideas and how it is written. At the end of my PhD, I met her at one of the conferences and asked her to have an informal meeting with me about her life after PhD and to give me advice about how I should proceed. I meet her now once or twice per year. Every time I ask her for a short meeting and talk to her about my research ideas and struggles. It really helps to have someone who is outside of your daily network and can give you some advice from a female perspective.

What do you think about the perceived tendency for female scientists to go into the biological sciences?

In my previous university there were definitely more female biologists and ecologists than male, but the professorships still tended to go to males. For some reason there is this discrepancy and it is not really balanced.

Have you ever encountered any issues because of your gender?

As a female scientist I don’t think I have encountered any big issues until now. Maybe I was just lucky and I change my mind when I start applying for tenure tracks

What ambitions do you have for your future?

My goal is to inspire people. The best way, I think, to encourage people to take care of the planet and accomplish good science, is through teaching. I would like to continue in a tenure track position by giving to my students and inspiring them.

What do you think needs to change in the Netherlands for the gender balance of tenure tracks and professorships to become 50/50?

I think the Westerdijk fellowship is a good step that the university has made. This is very nice. I also think that those choosing the candidates should be more open and be actively searching for female candidates at the conferences and meetings.

What advice would you give to young female scientists?

Always stick to what you love to do! Because if you stick to what you really love then you will be more focused and you will go further and reach the stars.

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