Anouk Rijs has been appointed as full professor in Analytics of Biomolecular Interactions at the division of Bioanalytical Chemistry of VU Amsterdam since October 2020. The same university where she once started her career as a student in Chemistry! At that time, it was quite challenging for Anouk to select a study, just as it is for many others nowadays. With endless options available, she decided to go to open days of various universities to taste the atmosphere of the different studies. After attending the Chemistry open day at the VU and talking to several students, she knew she wanted to do that too. Therefore, she advises prospective students to talk to current BSc students to get a better picture of the content study, what studying chemistry implies at the VU Amsterdam, why they chose chemistry, and to go to open days to visit the location. It is otherwise so hard to imagine what you will do!
"I wasn't ready to go into the “real” world yet"
After her studies, she was again faced with a difficult choice: what should I do next? Am I going to work in the corporate world, and where exactly? Or do I want to go into academic research? And do I need a PhD for whatever I would like to do? All these questions were running in her head. Looking back on her studies, she realized that she really enjoyed her master internship; to work on a specific project for a longer period of time. She also liked 'to work on a real research-project instead of following a standard protocol: the freedom of research, and being able to give your own input'. A PhD, therefore, turned out to be the perfect solution, as she saw it as the equivalent of a much longer master's internship. It was the chance to devote yourself fully to research. She did her PhD partly at the VU, partly at the UvA and partly in Livermore, California at Sandia National Labs, using molecular spectroscopy to probe the structure and dynamics of atmospheric molecules. During her PhD, she concluded that doing research suits her very well. Moreover, she was able to experience three different lab cultures and, and noticed that working abroad has also remained a very positive and exciting experience for her. This led to her decision to do a post-doc at the University of California Santa Barbara jointly with the University of Amsterdam, where she worked on the spectroscopic characterization of organic supramolecular complexes.
"You never know exactly what will come your way, but the combination of all kinds of coincidences will eventually lead you to a choice."
After her post-doc, she was held up with the same question she had after finishing her studies. Do I stay in academic research, or do I do something else? To find the answer to this question, she interviewed at several companies and she applied for a grant from the NWO, which would provide her with enough funds to start her own research. When she was awarded with the grant, she knew right away that an academic career for her was meant to be. After doing her own research with FOM Rijnhuizen (National Lab) for a while, she missed the interaction with the students and with other chemists in the lab a bit too much. That is why she decided to apply for a tenure track position at Radboud University and eventually became Associate Professor in Physical Chemistry. Her most recent career step was transferring to the VU, where she became a full professor in the Analytics of Biomolecular Interactions. Her research group is mainly focused on new techniques with integrated mass spectrometry combined with ion mobility and IR spectroscopy to perform structural analysis of the interaction between protein aggregation and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
"Make contact; connections are extremely important"
If you see yourself going into research or just enjoy doing research and have a lot of perseverance, then Anouk recommends doing a PhD. In order to be find a PhD or an internship position and a project that suits you well, it is important to tell your supervisors and people in your research group about your plans and wishes during your studies. She says they might just have something for you or know someone who can help you further. Furthermore, Anouk wants to tell future students that they mainly continue to choose things in their career that they are enthusiastic about, when you spend a lot of time on it, you better like what you do and it will help to put you on the right track'. Anouk is sure that she is now on the right path. She never says never about making a career switch as you never know what the future brings, but she feels completely at home at the VU, and she doesn't know if she will ever think differently about this. The versatility of a professor: conducting research, lecturing, interacting with students and PhD students, and being able to attend conferences, discuss science, it is an almost irreplaceable combination for her for a job. She believes there is a high level of analytical research at the VU. She thereby is happy to be in Amsterdam. To work close to home, allow me to row with her friends and compete at least twice a week in addition to her work. Because of this combination, she plans to stay at the VU for a while, continue with her research and, above all, enjoy the moment she is now in life.