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Pathways: Chantal Hubens


Can you tell us a little about your career and the path you took to your present role at FoDOCS? 

I studied Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences (MSc) at Leiden University in the Netherlands, with a specialisation in Neuropharmacology, and then proceeded to do a PhD at the Epilepsy Institute in the Netherlands (SEIN).

Before I finished my PhD, my husband and I moved to London, and I started as a Research Associate at the IoPPN. Unfortunately, shortly after it became clear I was not going to be able to finish my PhD (because I would not have the required 4 first author publications). I stayed on as a research associate at the IoPPN for about 6 years however, until I had my son and I felt I was not able to dedicate enough time to both my kid and my job.

I was looking for a more stable job with ‘office hours’, so I could spend more time with my kid without feeling guilty about abandoning my job. In all my previous positions, I always ended up helping other people with their projects (hence the late nights and weekend shifts), so a technician’s job seemed a perfect match! A large part of my experience was imaging (confocal of course, but I also did a lot of MRI), so when this position came up I knew I had to go for it!  

What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you navigate them? 

The last bit as a PhD student was a struggle and a fight, and not finishing it, was (and is still) devastating, but I learned a lot. I wanted to write my own projects and I knew exactly what I wanted to work on (neurogenesis in epilepsy & depression) and it was hard to let that go.

Working with people with different personalities and different objectives was not my strong suit, it is something I had to work on to be able to work with. I navigated through that with a lot of therapy! And compassion, humour and taking responsibility for my life and the choices I made. When I decided a few years later I could no longer do research projects, I was lost, because I love doing research. It took me a bit of time to decide what I would like to do and how I could keep doing science in a way that was still satisfactory to me, without being responsible for a project myself. I had to take a break and figure out what was important to me and when I found it, being a technician just clicked.

I love teaching, I was always helping other people out, I enjoy problem-solving more than anything, that’s exactly what a technician does! In hindsight it makes so much sense I can’t believe it took me this long to figure out!

If you could, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your career? 

The most important thing to say is to stand up more for myself. I know what I want (and what I am worth), but often I let that drop to help or adjust to others around me, usually without getting anything in return. Both in my work and personally that has caused me a lot of heartache and I wish I had made stronger choices.

I would tell myself to get my goals in order and to make sure I don't lose sight of them or let anyone defer me of the path. If you want something, you have to go for it now, because you if you keep postponing it, it will be too late before you know it. And the perfect time to do something never comes. Maybe I should tell myself more often, because it is still something I am struggling with!