In 2004 I graduated in biology. Since I like researching and working in the laboratory, my undergraduate dissertation was based on laboratory research in tumour biology. I studied the cytotoxicity of new cytotoxic agents on tumour cells and compared them to those that were already in use. After graduation, I worked as an assistant technician at the Chair of Zoology under Jasna Štrus. Soon I entered a Masters programme in Biological and Biotechnological Sciences, specialising in biology. I started doing research into the mid-gut cells of the rough woodlouse Porcellio scaber.
The University of Ljubljana was not employing at that time, so when my contract expired I was unemployed for almost a year. Then an opportunity arose to become a young researcher mentored by Damjana Drobne at the same Chair. Because I changed my mentor, I also changed my thesis topic and began to research nanoparticles . These are particles that are at least in one dimension smaller than 100 nanometres. I researched their effects and interactions with cells, tissues and the organism. This led to signing a contract for two and a half years, which was equivalent to the remaining length of my study (financed by the Slovene Research Agency ). In the meantime, I also had two babies and consequently extended my employment contract for two years.
In my opinion, the future of female researchers in Slovenia is currently very uncertain. When your contract with the Slovene Research Agency expires, you are left with the following possibilities: firstly, you can stay employed at the institution if your project is approved (in my case at the University of Ljubljana); secondly, you may become a teaching assistants if any of the professors retire; thirdly, your mentor may employ you on his or her project, again on a fixed-term contract; and finally, you may look for a job elsewhere. At this moment, I find myself in a difficult and uncertain situation. One month ago, my fixed-term contract at the faculty expired. I am currently unemployed. I have already written some applications and asked around, but for now I have received nothing but rejections. Public institutions are currently not employing anyone. I would love to find a job where I could still work as a researcher. The scholarship I received from the national programme ‘For Women in Science’ will allow me to finish my doctoral thesis and help me find an appropriate job. I will also try my luck by applying for a post-doctoral project, and maybe I will get it :). The Slovenian Research Agency chooses projects according to the area of research and the number of points gained through publishing articles in journals. This is also just a temporary solution because a post-doctoral project only lasts for two years. And then it starts all over again, either applying for a new project or looking for a new job. However, I am still optimistic and hope for the best.
Author: Živa Pipan Tkalec, biologist, recipient of the scholarship awarded by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2013 national programme.
Translated by: Valentina Rebec.