Growing Up in Science series

Do you ever wonder about the "real stories" of your colleagues? Behind every success found on their CV are the numerous failed attempts, challenges and lessons learned that everyone encounters – plus all the successes that no one ever hears about. Growing Up in Science is a conversation series featuring personal narratives of becoming and being a researcher.


The Maastricht Young Academy believes that sharing these stories is important so our community can listen to each other, support each other and, thereby, learn from each other. We initiated this local chapter of Growing Up in Science in October 2020. Since then, several speakers have shared their unofficial stories, and have imparted some wise words of advice and encouragement to the audience members. Our chapter is based on the Global Growing Up in Science initiative, which was founded by Prof. Wei Ji Ma and Prof. Cristina Alberini in 2014 at New York University. Learn more about the origins of GUS or visit their YouTube channel. 


You are invited! Read summaries of past events below and watch this space for announcements of upcoming events.

Previous events

Growing Up in Science #15: Prof. Christine Neuhold

On 16 November 2023, , the MYA hosted its 15th Growing Up in Science event featuring Prof. Dr Christine Neuhold, Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Social Sciences. 

A summary of the event through the eyes of MYA member Mark Kawakami: “I got to host Prof. Dr. Christine Neuhold, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for our GUS event. She shared with us her story of resilience, finding joy in what she does, and much more. While there were many aspects to her story that I found inspiring (i.e. “color the cow green"), I was particularly moved by her idea, not to see our career in terms of a ladder for us to climb up or down, but as a river. Our career is not something linear. Instead, like a river, it weaves and flows, branching out at times and merging together at other points. Thank you again Christine for all your hard work as a Dean and for sharing your motivational words with us!”

Academic careers are not linear, but flow like rivers

Growing Up in Science #14: Prof. Jan Smits

On 13 April 2023, the MYA hosted its 14th Growing Up in Science event featuring Prof. Dr Jan Smits, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Maastricht University.  Jan Smits shared his "unofficial" biography of his tenured academic career – from the different experiences at the three universities where he worked, the sacrifices he made in his private life, his doubts, but also the joy his work brought him.

 A short summary of the event from Jan Smits himself can be read here.

 "We should speak more openly about the professional and personal challenges we all face, and share failures. I call upon everyone to do that at those moments and places where this helps others. Unlike the profile pages suggest, we have no superheroes in the Faculty."


... we have no superheroes in the Faculty

Growing Up in Science #13: Prof. Bartel Van de Walle

Our guest for this session is the Director of UNU-MERIT, Prof. Dr. Bartel Van de Walle.

Growing Up in Science #12: Prof. Martin Paul

On December 9th 2022, the MYA hosted its 12th Growing Up in Science event featuring Prof. Martin Paul. Prof. Paul is our former President and the current Rector/CEO of Ruhr-Universität Bochum. He shared the ups and downs of his tenured career to a group of engaged audience members with his unique warmth and charm. From the events during his childhood that made him into the academic/leader that he is today, to his time in the United States (where he met his wife), Martin was incredibly generous in revealing the various struggles that he faced.

With an abundance of humility and a handful of vulnerablity, he admitted that he is a workaholic who is/was addicted to work and while he had achieved a lot, there were serious sacrifices that had to be made to make that possible. He described his early career as a “rat race” (especially during his fellowship at Harvard), and even with his array of successes, he still noted that academia can be be a “golden cage”. 

To immune ourselves from falling into similar traps, Martin Paul advised the following: “Don’t let the system take you over. Don’t let the system run you.” He continued that in the end, “you have to listen to your inner voice and make a choice.” What struck me the most was when he stated that while doing so “is not without its risks, life is more imporant than science.”

Aside from the many invaluable advice that he offered, what became abundantly clear from his talk was that although he has left his position in Maastricht, his love and affection for our community has not waned one bit. At one point, he even noted that “Maastricht is a paradise!”. However, he also offered another prudent advice, which was that “if everything you think you can do has been done, you have to look for new challenges” and he expressed that he has done all that he can (and probably even more) for Maastricht and that he has left the university in very good hands.

In Bochum, he is now focused on bringing some of positive Maastricht vibe to an otherwise rigid and rather hierarchical German academia.  We wish Martin all the luck with his new challenges and thank him from the bottom of our hearts for sharing his precious time and insights with us.

How life is more important than science

Growing Up in Science #11: Prof. Pamela Habibović

Growing Up in Science #10: Prof. Bram Akkermans

Growing Up in Science #9: Dr Aurélie Carlier

On October 21st 2021, the MYA hosted its 9th Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Aurélie Carlier. Aurélie is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. She told her personal story centering on empowering women in academia. Aurélie started by highlighting her early interests in math and engineering and described her struggles as a woman studying engineering in the early 2000s. She noted how prejudices and academic challenges helped her develop as a person, as well as an academic. She argued that when growing up in academia, it is always good not to assume the way others see us. When applying for jobs, for example, is good to not get discouraged and apply even if we think we are not the right person. In addition, Aurélie stressed the relevance of failures as part of the learning process and pointed out the importance of organizing and prioritizing our schedule – she gave interesting insights about the way she personally handles her family and career. Aurélie ended the session by reminding us that in today´s competitive academic environment, it is vital to take care of one’s work–life balance.

How failures are key to learning and why you shouldn’t assume how others see you

Growing Up in Science #8: Dr Gonny Willems

On June 3rd 2021, the MYA hosted its eighth Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Gonny Willems. Alike to others who have shared their stories in this conversation series, Gonny’s story shed light on the darker undertones of academia. Gonny struggled with psychological stress stoked by a few critical moments and a lack of professional support during her PhD. Her experiences steered her away from the sciences, which initially led her to become a mentor through her position as a student advisor at the Department of Science and Knowledge Engineering at Maastricht University. Whilst remaining an advocate for mental health in academia, Gonny is currently the managing director of Studio Europa. She ended the session by mentioning that although her story highlights an alternative way to grow up in science, she is pleased to have gained the skills and knowledge in her career path that have brought her to where she is today.

How struggles can lead to an alternative way to grow up in science 

Growing Up in Science #7: Dr Daniela Trani

On May 6th 2021, the MYA hosted its seventh Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Daniela Trani. Daniela’s academic track kicked off with a desire to explore abroad, and led her almost as far as the stars. Daniela had an interest in space that was fuelled by a summer research stint at NASA during her PhD, whereafter she realised that she wanted to become an astronaut. She was still, however, keen on academia, and pursued her first postdoc in space radiation biology. It was then, whilst running an experiment at NASA, that she applied to a call for astronauts by the European Space Agency. Although Daniela did not make it through the first round of the selection, she still commends herself for trying to pursue her passion. After this, a call from love led her to the Netherlands, which eventually drew her to work in a different type of space: a space that supports others in academia. Daniela currently works as the director of the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance, and is contributing to the development of one of the very first European Universities. This endeavour is for her another wonderful moonshot to pursue within the entire YUFE community. Her story reflects some important aspects of what it means to grow up in science: that rejection may be redirection, and that it is never too late to find and do what makes you happy.

How shooting for the stars and rejection may lead to redirection

Growing Up in Science #6: Prof. Wei Ji Ma

On March 11th 2021, the MYA hosted its sixth Growing Up in Science event featuring Prof. Wei Ji Ma. This was a significant event, not only because Wei Ji is a founding initiator of the global Growing Up in Science initiative, but also because it marked the beginning of the mentorship discussion by the MYA at Maastricht University. Wei Ji’s unofficial story is the stuff of urban legends: he skipped four grades in primary school, had a very early start to university, and began his PhD at the young age of 17. His PhD experience proved valuable in unexpected ways: he learnt the importance of having a good mentor (unfortunately through having a bad one) as well as that genius can only get you so far. Wei Ji’s mentorship experiences in academia led him to later initiate the global Growing Up in Science series, where its impact can already be seen by the many institutions that have established local chapters of GUS. At Maastricht University, the mentorship discussion is just beginning, and we cannot wait to see where it brings academia.

The importance of mentoring and the truth behind an urban legend

Growing Up in Science #5: Dr Jamiu Busari

On the February 25th 2021, the MYA hosted its fifth Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Jamiu Busari. Jamiu started the session by grounding it in the context of Black History Month. What followed was a grippingly insightful narrative of his academic career, where he contextualised his success to the audience through the lens of a person of colour who has faced inconsistencies and inequalities in academia. Jamiu highlighted a poignant moment in his career where he realized that he could not continue fighting to prove himself through overextending himself at the expense of his family, and potentially his career. Here he further realized that it’s not the promotion that matters, but rather the joy and fulfilment out of what you are doing. Through these realizations, Jamiu fostered who he is now: a fervent advocate for diversity and inclusivity. Jamiu ended the session by stating his will to make the university one that fosters allyship, is equitable and inclusive, creates opportunities, is based on earned achievement, and where everybody has equal room to participate and grow. 

How facing inconsistencies and inequalities can make you a fervent advocate 

Growing Up in Science #4: Dr Rajat Mani Thomas

On January 14th 2021, the MYA hosted its fourth Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Rajat Mani Thomas. Rajat is an Assistant professor at Amsterdam UMC who truly ‘grew up in science’: his father was a neuroscientist, and he lived on the university grounds where his father worked, and grew up around the neighbours and children of people in science. His childhood curiosity for the sciences (emphasis on the plural) has unmistakably shaped his unorthodox approach to academia. Considering himself a ‘scientific mercenary’, Rajat has worked across multiple fields of science and topics, to the benefit of being able to deliver fresh perspectives to different problems at hand. Through his experience, Rajat highlighted the importance of collaborative science, which he believes will help to overcome the increasingly competitive nature of academia. Rajat left the audience with two salient pieces of advice: give randomness a chance, and give time to activities that go beyond just research.

The importance of collaborative science and why you should give randomness a chance

Growing Up in Science #3: Dr Veerle Melotte

On December 10th 2021, the MYA hosted its third Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Veerle Melotte. Veerle Melotte is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. Veerle drew attention to the fact that there is a greater reality behind the professional achievements one can read about another on paper. Veerle herself did not find and follow her academic career path without delays and doubt, where she started and completed her PhD at a somewhat later stage than her academic counterparts, all the while experiencing the aspects of life which are not added to the résumé: marriage and motherhood. Her unofficial story truly shows that there is more to success than meets the eye. Veerle ended the session on an encouraging note by signifying that – despite one’s doubts and uncertainties - good mentors, passion, and self-belief play intrinsic roles in life and career, and that one is never too old to make a change.

Doubts and uncertainties and how you are never too old to make a change 

Growing Up in Science #2: Dr Robert Suurmond

On November 19th 2020, the MYA hosted its second Growing Up in Science event featuring Dr Robert Suurmond. Robert is a young Assistant Professor (tenure-tracker) at the School of Business and Economics. He spoke about his work experience in the academic world as well as his personal life, which grew increasingly intertwined as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded. He expressed the initial difficulties of switching from working at work to working at home and how this has progressed into the ‘new normal’ – where some aspects are similar to pre-lockdown life and where some aspects have changed. One such change that he is grateful for is having the opportunity to watch his son grow up. Another change – which Robert feels could be bettered – is the lack of networking opportunities available, even those as small as the chats over coffee in the workplace.

How a pandemic can redefine the new normal and what we can learn from it 

Growing Up in Science #1: Prof. Rianne Letschert