Maryna Polyakova



Psychiatrist by training, I have a PhD in cognitive neuroscience focusing on depression and cognitive impairment. I'm a proud mom of three girls (2, 4, 6 years), passionate about our brain and the progress of mankind in general.

Instagram: @marynapolyakova


“We do our best and hope they’ll understand when they grow older.”

I studied medicine and specialised in psychiatry in Ukraine. When I started working, I realised that we still know very little about our brain and that I will bring more benefit to society as a researcher. My three beautiful daughters were born during my PhD and I have absolutely no regrets.

When I was younger I had a plan: to finish my PhD, then have my first child, and then have two other children with a "comfortable" age difference. But then I became pregnant during the 1st year of my PhD. I was working for a pretty “special” professor, for whom firing a PhD student on Christmas eve wasn’t a big deal. Working in such conditions while being pregnant was very stressful.

I was scared, there was no way back to my own country, and I had very unclear future in Austria. My husband had several job possibilities in Ukraine, but we decided not to give up our dreams and continued sending applications for new PhD positions. 

After a very long selection procedure I had an interview at the Max Planck Institute for cognitive neuroscience - my dream institute. The interview was 2 days after our wedding and I was 7 months pregnant but nobody noticed and I didn’t mention it. I had decided to be honest if they asked about pregnancy, but if they didn't, it didn’t make sense to talk about it. When I was offered the scholarship and I finally told my future supervisors that I was starting my PhD late… A week of silence. No e-mails. No calls. Nothing. It was only after I wrote to the PhD program coordinator (a PhD and a mother-of-3) that I got a response, she helped to break the silence. I’m convinced they would never have accepted me knowing that I was pregnant. 

I started the new PhD when my daughter was 2 months old. Worrying that people perceive me as inferior, not responsible or not serious about my work. However, I should say, I have never heard any of these words. I worked super hard, doing my best to combine motherhood and the job. At the same time I was rarely absent at home for more than 3 hours. 

My husband has spent a lot of time with our daughter, and brought her to work to breastfeed if I couldn’t go home. We planned breastfeeding so I was always present on important meetings. Soon, most of my colleagues became supportive. 

I was doing well at work when we learned about the second pregnancy. I was scared again to tell my supervisor and waited quite some time, but he didn’t say a word and behaved as nothing had changed. 

I went back to work when my 2nd daughter was 8 weeks old. For me it was really easy to work at until the baby starts to crawl. If you’re working with data, doing literature review, writing things up it works pretty well. The difficult part starts when they start to sit and crawl and later when they need much more attention.

Reading the book "Lean in" made me understand my feelings of guilt don’t help anyone. I also understood we can’t be perfect for our children. We do our best and hope they’ll understand when they grow older. In my case it took me over 30 years to understand certain actions of my mom.

When I got pregnant of my 3rd baby I had no more fears. I’d published and had good relationships with my colleagues. I realized that most of my fears came from within. People reacted much better than I expected. 

If there’s someone judging me and thinking there’s a "perfect" way to live, I DON'T CARE. There are very few significant people in our lives whose opinion is really important and if there are people thinking differently we have to educate them by example. 

I have some friends who refused to pursue an academic career due to pregnancy. My mothers-friends are successful in other things, like business. When a person is determined you can’t stop them. As Marie Sklodovska-Curie wrote to her brother: "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained."

catarina moreno