“My older daughter encourages me to persevere.”
My passion for chemical engineering started way back in secondary school when I learned about distillation of crude oil into its various useful components. From then on, I was fascinated with the chemical processes that create the materials we use daily.
After my PhD in chemical engineering, I worked as a Project Leader in an R&D consultancy, and it was like a dream come true. About 3 years into the job, I got pregnant with my first child. I was lucky as the Netherlands has a pro-family culture and child-friendly work policies. My company and colleagues were very supportive, and while I was breastfeeding I could work part-time and from home.
When we relocated to Singapore, we decided I would take a 6-months career break until my baby started childcare. Looking for a job during that period was challenging. It was basically impossible to find a job like my previous one in the Netherlands.
I decided to join academia as I have an interest in research and teaching. I faced some rejections, mostly because I said upfront I wanted later start dates and flexible work arrangements. Finally, I landed a Chemical Engineering lecturer position at the National University of Singapore.
Starting work was more difficult than I had imagined. In the first month, I was thinking about my daughter all the time, worrying if she was well, wondering if my decision to return to work was a bad thing for her. It really helped that she enjoys going to childcare and being around other children.
As a working mum, there are many challenges such as rushing to and from childcare daily. Also, I worried for when my child may catch an illness and need to stay at home. About 2 years later, I was pregnant with my second child. This pregnancy was difficult and I had to deal with morning sickness while standing for 2 hours delivering lectures.
Luckily I have a supportive mom-academic friend and an understanding supervisor. I returned to work about 3 months after her birth, working about 2-3 days a week, using annual leave and unpaid leave. I decided to continue breastfeeding, so I had to express milk when I was working. This was the most difficult period, juggling teaching, work and breastfeeding, plus taking a 4-year-old to childcare daily.
Because of these challenges I took some time off from my research (about 2 years). After it took some time to build up the momentum for doing research projects and collaboration again.
Many times I considered a career break or a career change to one that would allow more quality time with my children. However, I also love my job as an academic. My older daughter encourages me to persevere when I share my difficult times with her.
I know we’re setting up an example for them to develop perseverance and grit to pursue what they’re passionate about, and this is what motivates me daily.
Today, my children are 9 and 5 years old, and we support one another and share our dreams. I’m thankful they’re the ones shaping who I am today. I’m very happy to have found Mothers in Science where like-minded moms share our experiences and support one another.