International Day of Women and Girls in Science – in conversation with Zexi Xu

Zexi Xu is a postdoc in the Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics research group at Utrecht University. She is currently working on the interaction between cold atmospheric plasma and biological membranes. She obtained her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2022.

What motivated you to do research?

Since I was a child, I have always had many questions. For example, why rock is so hard, why tofu is soft, why plastics can be used in so many areas… I decided to study science because I want to know the answers to satisfy my curiosity. Soft materials, especially biological membranes, are very interesting and I want to learn more about them. I wish to create a material that can mimic the functions and properties of biological membranes. This is my research motivation.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

I enjoy being a researcher because it is challenging. There are always many problems to solve in research. Even if old problems have been solved, you can find new ones. Sometimes I feel like I’m on an adventure at my workbench. Doing research can never bore me.

How do your family/friends view your career choice?

None of my family members work in academia. They are not familiar with my work but they fully respect my career choice as long as I am happy, healthy, and can take responsibility for my decisions.

What is your greatest success, and what is your greatest failure?

One of my biggest accomplishments was learning how to do cell culture during my PhD. I had never done it before my PhD. I quickly learned the techniques and then conducted my research on it. My supervisors said that I am one of the best learners in cell culture. I know I can bring this knowledge and experience to my future research on the biological membrane.

What has motivated you in difficult times?

Animations, books, and songs can inspire me in difficult times. I also have very good friendships that can motivate me when I doubt myself.

Any tips for managing both your career and your personal life?

I am still a young researcher so I need more experience before I can give some tips. For now, my feeling is that good health is essential to manage my work and personal life. I do sports to maintain my physical and mental health.

In your opinion, what changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women?

In my opinion, a decent salary is very important. Also, there are many amazing female researchers in the world, who are not only good at science, but also at other things such as sports and music. I think that more news and articles about female researchers can encourage women to work in science.