Dr. Michalina Lewicka-Yammine holds a PhD in Developmental Neuroscience at Karolinska Institute, Sweden. In today's episode, she shares her story about raising two kids, running a freelance consultancy and having a full-time job as a product manager at Spiber Technologies AB
Michalina Lewicka-Yammine’s passion for Neuroscience evolved during her master’s degree at the Jagiellonian University and her exchange studies at Uppsala University which led her to a PhD degree at Karolinska Institute in Developmental Neuroscience.
After graduation, her passion for marketing got her engaged with three startups and establishing her own consultancy firm. At Karolinska Institute she worked as a course leader and later as a project manager at the Alumni Office.
Throughout that journey Michalina gained many new experiences as well as gave birth to two children, and found her way to balance between being a mother and delivering and performing at work.
Nowadays, Michalina is raising two kids, running a freelance consultancy and has a full-time job as a product manager at Spiber Biomaterial – all powered by the stamina and resilience gained from motherhood.
I’m still having my own company and doing some small projects. On the side I’m working fifty percent for a biotech company and fifty percent on maternity leave. As I said, don’t give up! Try it! And see if it’s for you and if you don’t like it, try something else and try from a different angle – try to find your balance and what suits you the most.
Dr. Michalina Lewicka-Yammine, mother, freelancer and product manager at Spiber Biomaterial.
Welcome to PhD Career Stories, the podcast about career paths inside and outside academia. My name is Rui Cruz and I am very happy to introduce Michalina Lewicka-Yammine to you.
Michalina works as a Product Manager specialist for a biotech company located in Sweden and in today’s podcast she will tell you how she transitioned from her PhD in Developmental Neurosciences to the world of marketing.
During this process, Michalina started her own consulting company and worked in different startups, while at the same time she gave birth to two children.
Michalina will share with us important insights on the demanding challenges of being a mother while having the need to deliver and perform at work.
Michalina’s story shows us that with resilience, stamina and support from people around you, it is possible to have a healthy balance between career development and motherhood.
We hope that her story will be inspiring to you and that you enjoy this episode of PhD Career Stories!
Hi my name is Michalina Lewicka-Yammine and I would like to share with you today my career story and how I got my PhD and why.
I’m coming from Poland and during my master thesis in Krakow I decided to go for a student exchange and that was basically my first step to start thinking about the research projects.
I have to say I really enjoyed my time in Uppsala (Sweden) after one year exchange I decided to stay and take an internship project at Uppsala University where I shared my passion for science with three really nice people and basically due to them, due to Dan and Daniel who were my supervisor and colleagues who were following me during the project, I re-discovered that I would like to do a masters degree to take a PhD.
I graduated in June and searched for a PhD position… Now I know that June and July in Sweden are not the best months to get in touch with anyone. In September I was pretty frustrated about it but then it’s kind of be up and start going and I had some interviews.
I was lucky and happy to secure a place in Ola Hermanson group at the department of Neuroscience in Karolinska Institute and that’s how I started my ride and with the PhD life in December 2013 if I’m not wrong.
I have to say it has its ups and downs but I was really lucky I had a boss who let us experience science and really struggle ourselves, it was a bit more “lets you swim” approach if you need guidance he will try to help you but he will not really tell you what to do which makes me learn a lot and let me experience, troubleshoot and don’t give up.
I acquired a lot of skills, really valuable skills, I had also great colleagues in my group and as well as the neighbouring groups who were really open for discussion for troubleshooting together. I was really lucky that I met people who were really inspiring.
We made a lot of cool things together we were involved in some association, PhD associations, we were teaching. I enjoyed teaching a lot.
I made a PhD in development of neuroscience based on stem cell and biomaterials which was pretty cool because during that time there were people not only from karolinska institute but also from KTH which is a technical university as well as Linköping University so I had a bit of more discussion between scientists, researchers as well as engineers who are working with a different biomaterial which is really cool way to perceive the projects and communicate with people who talk all the same thing but in a different way.
The big advantage will say was about to travel. My boss always send us for some conferences and had a really good network.
Which allows me to build my own network which I found it really valuable later on and not only for your future career but also for choosing or finding your options deciding what would you like to do after the PhD.
As every PhD I had my ups and downs.
I have to say that I had some doubts like “Is it really for me?” but I’m one of these people who acts if I started I really want to finish it. I don’t like unfinished projects.
Overall I have to say it was really good time I learn a lot.
And it was definitely valuable even the down parts where project didn’t work out and something went been totally wrong and you discovered it after few months of work and it’s basically worth nothing differently teach I am kind of being more persistent to decide. Okay something didn’t work but many other things went as planned.
It was very happy by the end. I would say the solution ends up really good
Meeting people from different backgrounds, different groups and different cultures help me not only to build up my friendships but also my research and continue with my research.
It helped me to build my social skills, networking skills and communicating science it was really important and still is really important for me I was involved in a nonprofit organization which helps communicating science to the general public’
we had several events around Stockham city to show them what really researchers do and how daily work works and how the research that is perceived at Karolinska institute could be implementing in their live because I think it’s a pretty big gap between what we do as researchers and whqt general science knows about research.
It was a lot of fun, a lot of extra work which was not really counted as my PhD time but it was definitely a really valuable lessons, going for meetings with some kids to elderly people and talking about stem cell research about development in neuroscience to them.
As by the end of my PhD time I wasn’t really sure what I would like to do. I have seen one position that a professor who was presenting at Karolinska at one of the meetings, she said that they are searching for a postDoc and that sounds pretty cool.
I applied, I went for interviews in London and the plan was to move out in March, April to London to start a PostDoc there.
Overtime plan had to change and had to be changed because in January I discovered I’m pregnant and in one way it was really a blessing I was already married for over two years and we wanted to have kids. However discovering that you’re pregnant while moving out to a different country that’s your project doesn’t really include maternity leave for the first year changing a country where you’re not really cover by the social benefits for the first year was a bit tough choice to do but for me being a mother was really important so I decided to stay in Sweden.
I continue for a short time in my old group of projects just two or three weeks before the due date I stopped working as a researcher.
And I went on maternity leave but then I decided that well to kind of keep an eye open and see what I can do that if really academia is a choice for me.
I was really lucky because my husband open a company at that point and they wanted to market a bit around and he asked me if I could help them to share some information on social media so I said looking into that taking some courses online searching for some tips in reading and I discovered that in fact marketing it’s not such a far fetched form of neuroscience. In marketing you use a lot from neuroscience and knowledge that we obtained
Like high tracing is really commonly used for advertising and following human brain and things and total behaviour changing this is all based on the research, purely neurobiology research.
I really liked it and I started up by doing the marketing for xxxx and I had to say that it went very well.
They get a pretty good coverage after being a year on the market as a company they were covered by a NewYork Times.
They get really good funding and it was a really cool way to work with a team at the same time being a mother.
I work mostly from home I basically did a lot of things on my phone while breastfeeding or having a walk with the kid.
I discovered that even though before I was really good multi tasking I had good time management and I was pretty adjustable in the sense of being able to adjust to the situation Being a mother teach you that in a different dimensions and so after my maternity leave mission to lay I continue working for a small start ups and helping with marketing and trying to find a way to revive markets research in which platform they could set up and work with.
I worked a bit too with a customer service support which is really good because it helps to see that stuff which for us is really clear and obvious they are might be not as easy to see for the other in the sense that maybe for me the bike is red but someone else see that the bike is lila or pink. Sometimes it’s really hard to get on the same page with the customer and to understand them from a different perspective.
After working in a small company I decided to apply and be a teacher back at Karolinska institute and teach a marketing course.
That was pretty cool experience I worked for two years having a marketing course and a project management course as well as a practical placement courses.
That was Master level courses
It was again really resourceful, a good way to apply my knowledge and testing it out in a different field as I said before I like teaching during my PhD time and teaching by yourself, being in charge of the course about the budget and financing it’s a totally different difficulty but you have to handle with.
It was really interesting, however after a while decide to move out with in Karolinska and go to Alumni office and try to see how we could get the alumni more involved and more visible for the benefits of Karolinska and it was again a really cool team, a really good experience.
Learning the structures of a big organization such ad Karolinska It was really beneficial for me to see how many different coins have to get together so how many different balls have to the jungles at ones and some parts of departments can take decisions.
Which is totally different when I was working in small companies, small start ups really have like five max ten people team versus a hundred people who are management who have more regular meetings it’s not like we just write what’s happened, let’s talk…
I have to have a meeting with more structured way due to the size of the organizations.
I became pregnant and we bought a house at the same time, the houses a delay and it’s going to come at same time as my second baby, it’s a baby boy.
Two months before my due date I get a phone call from them from my colleagues I was collaborating with during my PhD time,testing to biomaterials and she told me that their companies trying to go public and start selling and they need someone to help them up with a marketing.
When we talked on the phone and she was describing the position I was “Gosh this is my dream job”. It is marketing, doing marketing for a biotech company. For a product which in fact I know really well because I was involved in the early stages of the research and partly I feel like I’m definitely want to go and talk with them so I did.
It was a bit funny because when I entered I was like two months in due dates.
So it definitely could see it I was pretty huge at the time and my belly was sticking out much more in front of me.
I Didn’t say much in the beginning and it was basically me who brought it up to the table telling them that yes the positions sounds good I would definitely be interested however yes my due date is soon
We decided to all have a moment to think about and we talk to each other a week after. I was really thrilled that they decided to give me a phone call with the suggestion that they’re interested and they are flexible for me to start working soon after my delivery but I could work out from home.
Help them up from a more distance things or bring the kids with me to work and I think this is a brilliant way because we are nowadays living in Sweden at least me I’m living in Sweden and I think Sweden is very open for having kids, for having kids at work and for females working with a kid in an office it’s not a big surprise and maybe some people still feel this with weird but many people don’t see it as a problem and I end up pretty lucky to be in a company which says it’s okay this is totally okay with my four months old baby discovering the voice and kind of giggling on a side when we are having a conversation and discussion.
It’s definitely hard for me to juggle my maternity leave together with my work plus having a ‘four and a half years old which is full of ideas and active little girl which is definitely cannot stay in one place and play she’s too active for that. It was also pretty tricking in the sense that I had to unpack the house, furnished the house and try to set it up and find time for myself.
Which is definitely not so easy I thought that having one child definitely change my world and teach me a lot. Change my understanding of being a flexible and time management. But having second one basically you have to learn it again from scratch you have to experience it in a different way.
Because the responsibility increase as you progress in your family life as well as your career.
So the flexibility has to increase in some way too it is definitely hard, especially for me for a person who likes to have few plans, structure and doesn’t like surprises.
Having two kids is full of surprises.
Definitely work and motherhood can coexist.
And you can have it all and there are moments where everything under the plan.
If it feels like whoa, it’s just too good to be true and know that soon something is going to go down or can go wrong.
And this could be like a easy thing that it’s a flu season and then one of the kids can get sick or bring a virus and the little one just have a running nose but you get a forty degree fever and you can’t move.
You don’t really have an influence on that.
I’m really happy and really thrilled that I have a partner,l friends and family who are really helpful.That can really rely on.
And so this is not only my duty and my skills to juggle with all. We share responsibilities really well with my parents and my partner of taking care of the kids and taking care of the house or helping each others and a daily basis.
I think this is a huge blessing for me.
I know everyone don’t have this on a daily basis.
I read some studies that forty three percent of highly qualified women decide to leave the carriers for having kids and I think that definitely does not an option for me I’m too active person, I always do a few things once.
As being a full time my mom at home, It’s not really my thing I would definitely get a bit frustrated I mean I need things which are more stimulating and more pushing up from behind and challenging a bit more.
As much as I love my kids and I love spending time with them.
I need the kind of more intellectual stimulation, some kind of me time.
That’s why I always try to stay updated with museum, theater, cinema. Try to read maybe now I have not so much time for reading but I switch to the audiobook and I’m listening at least in the way when I drop the kids to preschool, or driving to work or taking the bus or the train.
And so it’s really really good time which you can use it for this kind of stuff.
I have to say that at first when I was signing up the contract and it was like literally six weeks before the due date I was really afraid of how it’s going to end up because how the little one didn’t show up today, I was a bit afraid if he has a colleague or maybe I have a post partum depression or maybe I would not feel well or you know there’s a tones of thought running in your head especially when you are pregnant and you see everything pretty black.
But in the end I was really happy at all clear it up well.
My son is an amazing baby, a really happy baby. I started to work in february mostly from home.
Nowadays we are going more and more to the office and try to be at least once or twice a week in the office, having more personal meetings with my colleagues and discussing about product launch, the website and updates and things like that. I work a lot by night and this is again pretty good that I’m an evening person.
I am not a morning, I don’t like to wake up in the morning, so in the morning I just rather do things on autopilot and in the evening when the kids are sleeping in that house is basically under control and I have time to sit down and focus and continue with my task and fulfill my duties as an employee.
I definitely can say that especially nowadays with all the digital media and digital appliances which you can just take along with you and you can reply to email on the playgrounds when the dotter is playing and the son is sleeping in the pram.
You can keep an update with your website and keep in touch with your company and colleagues. It is definitely possible to have it all.
Having family and having jobs at the same time. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s a bit messy, complicated and overwhelming but in the end I think this is a life it’s not really easy peasy.
There are times up and down, I have to say that overall I fing my life really satisfying even though it is challenging but as I said before, I like challenges I definitely enjoy it
more when it’s more.
I prefer the challenges than have it a bit boring.
I think this is for all of the females who are thinking like well should I try it or should I not try. I would prefer to try something and say okay this is for me or this is not for me than just sitting and thinking about what would it be if
So if you have a doubt about being a mother and having a career life, Give it a shot!
It’s always better to say and okay I tried it didn’t work out than to be later on fifty or sixty and thinking it would have been so cool if I would have done it like that twenty years ago.
I don’t like speculation, I think that’s kind of my research nature coming up in it.
I prefer to have facts so.
I tried it and I see if it works or not.
In many ways I think work is the center of our lives.
Even though from my family is super hard for me. I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family if I wouldn’t have my work too because I need the balance between family time and work time which is a bit of my own time.
Which is the time I can really plan and predict because when you’re at home you cannot predict with two small kids which is really resourceful you cannot plan your day.
I definitely learn a totally new set of skills even though I was good in time management and I was pretty flexible. I learned it in a new dimension because the life taught you a lot of things in a different time and maybe not times which you have definitely not plan it and it could be from illness to day off at school because they have some planning or schedule and so you have to deliver the unexpected.
Juggling few balls at the same time it’s pretty, it’s really challenging.
The work life balance is hard I still managed to find some time for myself.
When my daughter was two I started dancing again I like dancing this is my thing, that’s relax me.
I joined a group which is started class and we are dancing modern Jazz.
We were lucky because we not only compete on a national level, we got to the second place in Sweden we went for the international competition competed for Sweden and got a third place which felt really cool especially for me because I’m Polish and I was dancing in the Swedish national team and we get a third place
It felt pretty weird also showing that the workplace nowadays it’s so open, it’s so multicultural people moving and changing, adjusting to different situations.
I think we all should have our dreams and hopes in some way try to follow some plans but also take all the punches that comes on the way trying new possibility not to be close mine but pretty open to new options and suggestions.
Because I think if I would just chose just a career or just the motherhood I will feel excluded from the outer part.
I can see that at least for now I can say for myself it’s definitely possible and it was definitely possible for my mother, she kept her career and two kids in the home when I had really caring parents and the small of the cake at home and she managed to succeed in her career so I think that especially nowadays when the world get more open for that working mothers. That it’s even easier and it’s a pity not to try.
I’m still having my own company and doing some small projects. On the side I’m working fifty percent for a biotech company and fifty percent on maternity leave
As I said, don’t give up! Try it!
And see if it’s for you and if you don’t like it, try something else and try from a different angle – try to find your balance and what suits you the most.
Take your life in your hands and then don’t give up if it doesn’t work out.
Just try something new.
Moving to marketing after PhD in neuroscience wasn’t maybe to most obvious choice I soon found it a great choice and great solution for me especially nowadays when I work as a product management and biotech company where I can combine my research knowledge, my scientific skills combined with the marketing skills and try to communicate the product to the scientist which are our first customers, I find it really cool I find it is a good reason to wake up in the morning and continue it.
And that is it for another episode of PhD Career Stories.
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