“Follow your dreams! Go for it!” – Verena Gaidzik, woman in hematology/EHA volunteer
Verena Gaidzik is a physician scientist in the department of Internal Medicine III (Head: Prof. Dr. Hartmut Döhner) at the University Hospital of Ulm. She has board certifications in internal medicine, hematology and oncology as well as palliative medicine. She takes care of patients with hematologic diseases (mainly leukemias and lymphomas), but also oncologic patients. Her research focus is on the genetic characterization and measurable residual disease of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and its implication on prognosis of AML patients and the respective impact on targeted therapies. In addition, she’s responsible for the molecular genetic lab one of the two reference labs of the AMLSG, under Prof. Dr. Konstanze Döhner. On top of these, she is involved in clinical trials as principle/co-investigator or trial coordinator.
She got to know EHA during the EHA congress in Vienna 2007. From this time, she connected with EHA by attending the annual congress and presenting research work, and has been an EHA member for several years. In 2010, she was awarded the EHA-ASH Translational Research Training in Hematology (TRTH). In 2016/2017, she received a Clinical Research Training in Hematology (CRTH) award.
Currently the chair of the YoungEHA committee, she helps the EHA Executive Office develop projects for the YoungEHA audience.
EHA: What specific challenges have you faced or are you facing as a woman in science?
Verena Gaidzik (VG): Well, I cannot speak for all women in science, but for example, looking at the medical faculties in Germany, most positions are still dominated by men due to the longstanding hierarchy in the medical field. As long as this gender disbalance continues, we as women need to argue permanently for “our” needs to be considered. I’m happy to say that my university adopted a “mission statement with regard to equality” which is now a permanent component of all faculties. One very important step!
EHA: Are there advantages of being a woman in science?
VG: Being a woman per se has many advantages. As in science, many decisions are driven by findings and based on facts which we obtained in our research, there is no reason why we should not be able to do so. In addition, women might be more emotional, a great gift to inspire teams and to promote the best. We can use our empathy and combine it with rationality to foster best results. A wonderful advantage not to compete but just to do it in this way.
EHA: If there is something that you can change in the system (science), what would it be?
VG: From my perspective, it is important to have an inclusive community at the universities and research centers to further ensure the integration of women in science. To this end, we need different kinds of mentoring, formally and informally, to guarantee a broader access for women in science and as the first step of being able to take over leading positions as women in science. We need junior as well as senior faculty who have courage and curiosity and who are not afraid of interacting together. All this needs to be possible also when children and career have to be balanced. But I’m aware that I am in a privileged situation living and working in a country where democracy and liberty are the columns. And I think we all should use our privileges and strength to spread our wings to support women in science also in other countries who face even much more struggles than we do.
EHA: What would it take to advance the position of women in science?
VG: In the last decades and years, many efforts are now showing progress in all different aspects. For example, now there are women’s quota, distinct programs supporting women in science and equal opportunities commissioners at the universities. My university has also several equal opportunities commissioners in the different faculties, and I have the luck to be one of these for the medical faculty.
And all these steps and implications are more than important! On the other hand, as long as we need all these supporting roles and programs and as long as we need to talk about “women in science” we are still not there yet. We should not ask “women in science?”, we have to say, “women in science, yes!”.
EHA: What would you say to the younger generation of women who are currently pursuing scientific careers?
VG: Whatever you do, you have to do it with passion, otherwise you won’t succeed, independent of gender. For me, the passion for my patients and to hematology with the goals to extend their life and to improve their quality of life are the greatest motivations and could not be exceeded.
But mentors and role models and their support and advice with regard to career development are needed. And that is in most of the cases the “crux”: in the past, there have been not many women in the positions with decision-making power and a male driven faculty might not have been so supportive as they could be. But times are changing, and I think the younger generation now has more support than my generation or the generation before, thanks to all the women – and also men - who contributed with their work and understanding these needs.
EHA: What would you say to the girls out there who would like to pursue a career in science but are thinking twice about it?
VG: There have never been so many options for girls to pursue their own ideas than in these times. The most important for me, and this is what I did and what I would like to say: “Follow your own dreams! Don`t be discouraged! There is definitely more than one way to achieve goals, but you have to do the first step to reach them, so: go for it!”