Nienke Bosschaart - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Associate Professor, Biomedical Photonic Imaging
University of Twente, The Netherlands
Born in The Netherlands
As long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by science. My parents (both mathematicians) have always encouraged me and my brothers to be curious. In high school, I gained more fascination for biology and the human body, which led me to study biomedical engineering. When I was a student, it was Ton van Leeuwen who introduced me to biomedical optics, and optical coherence tomography in particular. I was sold! It is so much fun to look inside the human body without opening it up.
I am the principal investigator of two research lines, in which I supervise fellow researchers and students. The first research line aims to reduce the amount of invasive blood draws for ill and premature newborns with noninvasive optical methods. The second research line focuses on developing new technologies for breastfeeding research. There are so many mothers who experience difficulties in breastfeeding, and there is simply a lack of techniques to investigate the origin of these problems. I am very excited to explore how we can apply our biomedical optics toolkit for this purpose.
My biggest career obstacle was combining work and the birth of my first child. Both my partner and I had long commuting distances and we realized that for us, this was not a sustainable situation when raising a family. We had to find a new work-life balance. At that time, I had just received a prestigious personal research grant. That grant allowed me to move to my current institute and enter into a tenure track. For my partner, there were sufficient job opportunities in the same area, so we solved the puzzle and moved. Both of us now have the privilege of riding our bikes to work. In hindsight, taking this step has catalyzed my career and I am very happy that the birth of our son forced us into it.
As a piece of advice to my younger self: science requires patience. I think many young researchers (including me) feel frustrated at some point about the time it takes to reach the overarching end goal of their project. Treasure the small steps that you have made towards that end goal, because these are just as important.
To young women considering a career in STEM, I would say: Find out what makes you happy and go for it! Don’t take your critical inner voice too seriously. And also: Think about what you need to make yourself thrive. Be clear about your needs to your loved ones, your supervisors at work, and anyone else who can help you meet them.