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Martina Vijver wins NWO Athena Award for outstanding female researchers

‘She is an example to young researchers who are beginning to find their career path’, wrote the jury of the NWO Athena Award about Professor of Ecotoxicology Martina Vijver. It was the main reason for presenting her with one of the two awards for outstanding female scientists. Both Vijver and Nijmegen astronomer Monika Móscibrodzka will receive 50,000 euros to spend on increasing the visibility of role models in science.

Credits: Liesbeth Dingemans

The jury considers Vijver a very striking role model. In addition to doing excellent, prestigious research she also has an impressive record in the field of outreach activities. This includes founding RISE, a network for female researchers in beta sciences. The jury praises her strong public appearances and her excellent help in encouraging younger researchers.

The jury makes particular mention of Vijver’s own career as an example to young researchers who are beginning to find their career path.

'I was a first-generation students and had never studied at a university.'

Taking a detour to the top

In her own words, Vijver did not take the ‘shortest route’ to a scientific career. ‘I started at a University for Applied Scineces, then got a job and went on to do a PhD from there. I was a first-generation student and had never studied at a university. And yet, I have now made it to scientific director at a top academic institution. I hope with this story, I can be a role model for talented people who have to overcome additional hurdles before they qualify for full university education. For example related to cultural issues, being a first-generation student or belonging to a minority group.’

Equal opportunities in science

Along with her colleagues from RISE, Researchers in Science for Equality, Vijver is committed to equal opportunities in science. Vijver: ‘We wanted to do something about the underrepresentation of women in science, especially higher up the academic ladder.’ For example, RISE advises the Faculty Council on diversity policy, organises workshops and forms a community where women scientists can share ideas and experiences.

Pioneering research in an outdoor lab

Among other things, Vijver is the founder of the Living Lab, an outdoor laboratory at Leiden Bio Science Park. Here she conducts research into pollution from pesticides, fertilizers and microplastics in a real-life situation. 'Nowhere else than in the Living Lab can we simulate conditions of freshwater life so well’, says Vijver. ‘The Living Lab gives us the opportunity to investigate future scenarios in terms of climate change and land use for the Dutch landscape.’ Since 1 September 2022, Vijver has also been Scientific Director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences Leiden.

Meet Martina and Monika

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Winners NWO Science Awards 2022 announced

From 28 November to 2 December, NWO Domain Science (ENW) will award five special scientific prizes for the third time. The Athena Award is one of them. The jury considers the winners to be a source of inspiration in the areas of societal impact, team science, excellent science, diversity and communication. The aim of the prizes is to reward scientists who make a great effort in these areas and to inspire others to do the same. Nine winners receive a total of €330,000.

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