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Martha Vardaki, PhD

“Closing the gender gap especially in STEM can only be a result of a change in mentality through education and family…”

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Greece

Introduce yourself in a few words.

I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Ioannina Medical School. For the past 10 years I have been working on the intersection of Biomedicine and Physics by researching how photons interact with life. I obtained a BSc and MSc degree from the Pharmacy department (University of Patras) and then pursued a PhD in Physics at the University of Exeter, followed by postdoctoral appointments in Imperial College London and the University of British Columbia. In 2020, I relocated back in Greece by joining the Medical Physics Lab at the University of Ioannina under State Scholarships Foundation (IKY) funding. My past and current research focuses on the diverse ways that the interaction of light and matter (spectroscopy) can assist disease diagnosis. Apart from research, I also hold a keen interest in mentoring young women and improving female visibility in science.

What is the most exciting thing about your work? 

The diverse nature of activities involved in my daily work routine. From collaborating with clinical partners to drafting manuscripts and grant proposals, supervising students and presenting lectures in conferences, communicating science to public, talking to companies’ representatives, writing code and building optical setups in the lab, the list is endless..! There are so many distinct facets in research that it’s very difficult to get bored or lose interest in it. What is your favourite science fact? *99.9% of the DNA sequence is identical between all human beings – only 3% of this encodes proteins whereas 5-8% is viral DNA.

What inspired you to follow this career path? 

What inspired me to pursue this career was the feeling of contributing to human knowledge and society while combining different fields at the same time.

What is the biggest challenge that you faced in your career so far? 

Shifting from a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences to a PhD in Physics has been the biggest challenge that I faced so far as I was lacking the appropriate background. Thankfully the support I received from my supervisors and fellow scientists was immense. Another challenge I encountered later in my career was leading projects independently- it was a challenging but very rewarding process!

What motivates your work? 

I think it’s the feeling of doing something novel and contributing in so many ways. To continuously learning, making observations and finding out something that no one else has noticed before- I think this is the most exciting and motivating part of my work!

What kind of advice would you give to your younger self just starting out?

Do not overanalyze situations, only your data. And by the way engage in coding as soon as possible.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I am a proud pomeranian mum, so most of my time is spent with my dog. I love watching law drama series and traveling, but whenever I manage to get a long break, you will always find me back to the island spending time with friends and family.

What do you think we can do to close the gender gap and increase female visibility in STEM? 

Closing the gender gap especially in STEM can only be a result of a change in mentality through education and family. That would entail a shift in the role of women in modern society which is increasingly challenging with juggling motherhood, domestic work and career. Our time as women and scientists is limited but we can all start by raising awareness and adopting a gender balanced mentality in our daily life and families, or even getting involved in initiatives highlighting and pushing for gender equality policies.

You can follow Martha @marthouli_v

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