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Pathways: Elzbieta Stepula


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

Currently I work as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Bergholt Lab, where we develop new label-free bioimaging instrumentation. My background is chemistry, I obtained my B.Sc. at the University of Silesia in Poland, then moved to Germany where I did my M.Sc. and PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Choosing the next career step was a bit tricky for me. Most of my friends who got a job in the chemical industry was seeing the labs only when they walked through it on the way to their offices. However, I knew that I didn’t want an office job as I still wanted to work in a lab and do research. On the other hand, I did not really know many people and especially very few women that would stay in academia after the PhD. I started looking for a postdoc position and thought that I might just try and apply for one or two. During my PhD I was using quite a lot of imaging techniques and I wanted to learn more about how the instrumentation works and get more experience in development of new techniques which is the reason why I applied for the current position. 

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

I still think that I am a very privileged person because I always had the support of my family and my partner who were giving me always needed support. However, I encountered a few challenges along the way of my career. Being an immigrant made me very strong and I had to grow up very quickly but also made me vulnerable and lonely. Also, being woman in STEM makes you sometimes less visible than your colleagues which strengthens the impostor syndrome. Stepping then in a completely new field made me doubt about my skills even more. At the end I always try to remind myself that it is ‘just’ a job and that no one will die if I make a mistake. I also found out that e.g. hiking in the nature for a few days is a great grounding experience which shows me a different perspective on life. 

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

I think that the most important advice I would give to myself is ‘don’t try to compare yourself with others all the time, it’s your life and your career and you make it all in your own pace’ as well as ‘find something that you really enjoy doing and are passionate about and stick to it’.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. What does equity mean to you, and how can everyone (regardless of gender) embrace it? 

Equity means to me being sensitive for the need of other people and making space for these needs. I think that to embrace gender equity we need to have everyone on board. It is important to be aware of and acknowledge our privileges, however we do not have to feel guilty. We should all remember that seeing and being sensible for the needs of others does not take away anything from us