17. October 2023

Meeting 07.11.2023 Biological Membranes and Career Advice with Professor Monzel

Our first ever speaker, Prof. Monzel from University Düsseldorf, gave a talk about biological membranes followed by an informal conversation about her personal career and how being a women can affect working in Physics research. She gave a lot of helpful career advice starting from how and where to apply for funds to the importance of having a good supervisor or how to be confident and bold in a male-dominated research area. 

Meeting © Paarth
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The day started with a talk about "Biological Membranes - A guide for experimental and theoretical (bio-)physicists," where Prof. Monzel discussed one of her research areas. She introduced a physical description of those membranes using a thermodynamic framework that allows modeling different possible shapes of the membranes. She went on to explain how they use a focused laser beam to determine the activation states of different cells. Based on this technique, in her Ph.D. thesis, she had worked on a method to investigate the oscillating movements of the membranes. It was very exciting to dive into a completely different research area than what most of us do in our daily lives. Seeing how Physics can be used in interdisciplinary fields to gain knowledge in Medicine and Biology was a great chance to widen our horizon as physicists.

After a lunch break, we sat together for an informal discussion with Professor Monzel. In the beginning, everyone was very curious about her personal path, why she chose Medical Physics, and how she ended up as a professor. She talked very openly about the difficulties she had to face, the decisions she made, and what she would do differently in retrospect. Then, she also encouraged us to ask her any concrete questions we have about how to make your way in research. She offered valuable insights into how applying for funds works, which people it is useful to make a good connection with, and where to find job advertisements in Physics research. She talked about her experience with different supervisors, what she learned a good supervisor is, and how to find a working group that is a good starting point for your career. We also discussed the importance of publications and how, in her experience, women are often more insecure about their results and hesitate to ask for help or push their publications. She encouraged everyone to be self-confident, defend their ideas, and actively approach supervisors to ask for feedback.

A lot of what she talked about were very new insights to many of us, and it was refreshing to have a female perspective on these topics. It was very nice to see how she wanted us to benefit from her experiences as both a young woman who went through all the stages of a career but also as a professor. At the same time, she was very reflective that having a career in research is not always about how good you are in physics but also has to do with luck, which people you end up working with or how your life circumstances are. We also talked about how her path was rather straight; she always knew she wanted to do research. Not all of us felt this way and did not know if this was the right way for them. If it suits the personal goals in their lives or if they could deal with the insecurity and instability of the early stages of a research career.

In the previous meetings, we had talked a lot about the structural disadvantages women* researchers can face and focused on the factors that cause inequalities and can make a career in that field harder or less attractive for a certain group of people. The focus of this discussion was more on how you can still make the best out of the given circumstances. How the "game" - as we sometimes called it during the discussion - works and how you can learn to succeed despite whether you agree with the rules or not. We are very grateful to Professor Monzel for that perspective, the information and encouragements she shared with us!

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