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Installing a love of science in others

In addition to developing her own career, Jagoda Hofman-Hutna also focuses on promoting science among young people and engaging in community work

Semifinalist of the competition and finding her own path

Jagoda Hofman-Hutna is involved in various initiatives related to the development of her own scientific career and the promotion of science. She is a member of the Polish Women in Medicine Foundation and the scientific association Collegium Invisibile. She also works on sharing knowledge of topics related to the mental health of youth.

“I was searching for my place for a very long time, both in scientific and clinical work. I experimented with many research areas before I came to the point where I realized that psychiatry and neuroscience are what I am particularly interested in,” she says of her path so far.

Her reflections on her path were prompted by her participation in the “Forbes 25 under 25” competition, in which she managed to reach the semifinals. In an interview with Coopernicus, she shares her thoughts on the experience:

“When presenting my scientific activities before the committee, I didn’t have one specific project. In the end, I think that’s mainly why I didn’t make it to the finals.”

However, there is no such thing as a bad outcome. After the competition, she started thinking about what she specifically wants to do and where she sees herself in the future. As she says, it was participation in the event that made her realize that academic work alone was not fully satisfying to her.

“I also need social activities that give me more fulfillment. This is the kind of work that gives more visible results, while scientific work is usually tedious and long. In activities with people, we get feedback right away.”

Cooperation with international teams

During her medical studies, Jagoda established collaborations with a number of foundations and research teams. One of them was the Cognescence team, formed by Professor Rubinstein of Cambridge University.

“It opened me up to new possibilities. It was such a breakthrough moment, where it turned out that working and studying in Poland, you can also get such opportunities and gain an international experience.”

The Cognescence team studied how various factors influence the development of cognitive disorders. Interestingly, the project involved researchers from many fields. Jagoda was a medical consultant who assisted experts dealing with aspects of AI and IT. With her medical knowledge, she was able to advise them on which data had important medical implications. She also searched databases herself for information needed to continue the study.

 “It was tedious and unspectacular work, but it taught me patience and perseverance,” she says of her experience with the Cognescence team.

The experience also involved attending meetings of the international team. It was there that she discovered that collaboration with people working in other fields expands horizons tremendously. Now she continues such cooperation at Collegium Invisibile.

The association relies on interdisciplinarity. And that, for Jagoda, is its main plus. People from all sorts of fields and with all sorts of interests work together and share their knowledge. The association includes humanists, sociologists, film scholars, economists, as well as lawyers and doctors, among others.

“This creates a space for a common exchange of ideas, broadening horizons,” she says.

She also notes that it’s not just scholarly activity, but also community building. Collegium Invisibile organizes team-building events, Christmas Eve dinners and similar opportunities to meet not only academically, but also privately. Jagoda says that during these meetings, interesting discussions always arise, which sometimes change her point of view.

Love for science passed on to others

Collegium Invisible is a scientific institution, Jagoda emphasizes. She adds that there is a motto in the association that everyone takes something for themselves, but also gives to others. Collegium organizes meetings with pupils and students, and promotes science through initiatives such as podcasts and summer camps.

“It suits me very well, because I find it great to educate and encourage younger people in science,” Jagoda says.

She herself runs the association’s podcast called “(In)visible”, or “(Nie)widzialne” in Polish. Its goal is precisely to popularize science. The topics covered in the podcast range from current problems to technical issues, such as applying for scientific grants.

“Such know-how for people who are starting or still learning how to approach science,” Jagoda sums up the podcast.

The Collegium also organizes an Olympic Village, which is a science camp for high school students who get highly regarded prizes in a Polish competition for high schoolers (Olimpiada, in Polish). There is also a Summer School, a science camp for children who are scholarship recipients of the National Children’s Fund. Another of the programs supporting talented young people is the First Tutor, during which members of the Collegium take young scientists under their wings and help them develop their research projects. This year, as part of the program, a Young Scientist Workshop was also established. Jagoda taught a class there on the mental health of researchers.

In addition to “installing a love of science,” there is also the opportunity for Jagoda to conduct her own research project under the affiliation of Collegium Invisibile. Jagoda plans to conduct a short summer tutorial related to the topic she will then develop for her PhD. If the plan succeeds, it will take place as part of her postgraduate internship carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw.

Activities in the Polish Women in Medicine Foundation

Jagoda emphasizes how important her activities in the Polish Women in Medicine Foundation are to her. It is this that has cemented her commitment to social and educational activism. 

In an interview with Coopernicus, Jagoda talks about the Foundation. She talks about protecting the rights of Polish female medics and integrating women from different professions. She notes that it’s not only female doctors who belong to the Foundation:

“Among the observers and women attending the events are also midwives, nurses, electrocardiologists or psychologists. It’s one big community. We are also engaged in pro-health education, because the Foundation is also a place for patients – Polish women in medicine,” she says about the comprehensive activities of the organization.

The Foundation is also involved in organizing various events. Currently, the flagship event is Mentoring Mornings. The next one will be held on May 11 and will be the 3rd edition of the program. Jagoda adds that the May event will be organized in “a great place, as it will be held at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw.”

As part of her work at the Foundation, Jagoda also writes articles for the website. She has currently completed two series of texts. The first was about development opportunities for Polish female medics and focused on foreign exchanges, internships or summer schools. The second was devoted to strictly scientific work – how to get started, how to publish and how to present at conferences. 

In addition, the Foundation also designs studies and reports. “We are currently finalizing a large report on the mental health of Polish male and female medics. It’s going to be a sizable study that will include not just doctors, but all medics. It will assess the state of their mental health, but also how medics use mental health care. We hope to publish a form in April and anyone interested will be able to take part in our project,”  Jagoda announces.

Popularizing science

Despite being involved in so many initiatives, Jagoda is also expanding her activities into popularizing science on social media.

“This has tremendous potential, especially in the area of child and adolescent mental health. Young people are using social media platforms on a very big scale now,” Jagoda assesses. She adds: “You can reach them there with both positive and negative content.”

This is what poses a big challenge in this area – how to distinguish and how to create content that is valuable, from that which is harmful. This is why Jagoda stresses that she sees a huge responsibility in popularizing science online. She talks about the tendency to bring her content to perfection, to make sure it doesn’t spread misinformation.

“It’s a gray area of content. In addition to the valuable and worthless ones, there are the unverified ones. Published, for example, by celebrities or people who want to make a name for themselves, but have no factual background to share such content,” Jagoda says.

Nevertheless, she stresses that this is the medium of the future:

“If we want to educate and tell people where to seek help, this is a good place to do it. Mental illnesses are diseases just like other diseases. It’s very important, so I’d like to address it even more fully,” she stresses.

The role of a young woman in science and advice for beginners

Jagoda also talks about the problems and difficulties she has encountered so far on her path. They were mainly related to technical background, raising finances or contacting mentors.

At the same time, as a female scientist, she feels that there is still a certain tendency in the scientific community to disregard or be more lenient on the basis of gender, especially on the part of senior scientific colleagues.

“My knowledge and experience are not always treated as meaningfully as they could be if I were a man. This continues to linger.”

Although she hasn’t experienced them herself, she also knows stories of sexist behavior, if only from the accounts of other female doctors in postgraduate training. She recounts a story about how some female medics were called “a small girl” (“dziewczynko” in Polish) or were asked to make coffee for others.

“I haven’t experienced such situations myself, fortunately. And I am very sensitive to such comments. But unfortunately, I have the impression that there are many people who are used to such behavior or are afraid to react. That’s why it’s worth talking about it loudly and publicly,” Jagoda adds.

She advises scientists at the beginning of their careers to do things that really interest them.

“I, in my career, have done things that are interesting and less interesting. For various reasons, for example, because an opportunity just happened to arise. It’s always an experience, an opportunity to make new friends, develop your skills. However, it did not give me full satisfaction when I was doing, for example, research in the field of endocrinology. It was only when I discovered my niche in psychiatry that it turned out that reading publications and writing can be a really fascinating occupation,” says Jagoda. She adds: “So, you have to do what really interests you, not what looks good on your resume or is prestigious. Otherwise it’s an easy path to a professional burnout.”

Cover photography: Unsplash

Barbara Niemczyk
I graduated from a bachelor's degree in applied linguistics and a master's degree in journalism. I have done numerous internships and fellowships in the past years, including a translation traineeship at one of the EU Institutions and a journalistic fellowship at Deutsche Welle. I have a big passion for telling stories, talking with people and exchanging ideas. I am proactive and have excellent writing skills and ease at making new connections. I like to spend my free time sailing, hiking and practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
Written by:

Barbara Niemczyk

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