siaa_logo_blue Ewine F. van Dishoeck ewine

Leiden Observatory, Leiden University

Leiden, the Netherlands
Job Title: Full professor of molecular astrophysics


SIAA: What stage of your career have you reached?

Ewine F. van Dishoek: I have been a full professor since 1995

SIAA: How many years ago did you complete your PhD?

ED: 24 years.

SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?
ED: No, I personally only felt it as an advantage to be a woman throughout my career. In my country, there are very few women in physical sciences so professors remember you much more readily if you are a woman, especially if you do well in classes. My colleagues have also been very supportive throughout the rest of my career, in putting me forward to get prestigious grants and creating a position in an interdisciplinary field (astrochemistry).

SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?
ED: The percentage of women at Leiden is comparable with that at other Dutch institutions, but low compared with other countries. I am currently the only tenured female faculty, out of 19 staff members in total, so the percentage is about 5%. The statistics for PhD and postdocs are much better: about 30% are female in Leiden in each category.

SIAA: What is your family status?
ED: I am married to Tim de Zeeuw, who is also an astronomer (also professor at Leiden and now Director General of the European Southern Observatory with headquarters in Garching, Germany). Until recently I was taking care of my 90-yr mother who was living in a nearby nursing home in Leiden.

SIAA: Have you had career breaks?

ED: I have not had any career breaks, but we have been juggling our dual careers, trying to find the optimum positions for both of us at each stage of our careers. We spent 6 yr in the US as postdocs at Harvard, Princeton and Caltech. For 2.5 yr, we commuted between Harvard and Princeton. Getting good fellowships after our PhDs was crucial to put us in a position to get two tenured professorships in Leiden eventually, so the 'pain' of living in two places for a while was worth it (in addition to the advantage of being exposed to excellent science in multiple places!). Currently, I am commuting on a bi-weekly basis between Leiden and Garching, where I am an external scientific member of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?
About 10-12 hrs per day, including weekends. But remember that my work is also my hobby! I feel fortunate to have so much freedom to pursue my work and hobby.

SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?

ED: Less administration!

SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?
First, make sure you excel in one aspect of your studies and research so that you get noticed. It is much better to do one topic really well than all of them average. Second, keep in mind that a career in astronomy is a lot of fun: the science is exciting (always unexpected results, never a dull moment!), one travels all over the world to exotic places and makes friends on different continents. This perspective will help you to get through the difficult times that everyone goes through at some stage of their career.