In Loving Memory of Femke Bosman
Bijgewerkt op: 9 jun.
The acceptance and publication of a research paper is typically an exciting and happy moment in a scientist's life. Last week our work on how the early flooding signal ethylene improves hypoxia root tip survival was published in Plant Physiology. However, this time I could not feel any sense of joy or pride. Just sadness. I had just learnt that one of our co-authors, Femke Bosman, had passed away.
I want to tell you about Femke, what Femke has meant to me and what I think she has contributed to our science.
I first met Femke during her BSc in Biology at Utrecht University. I worked there as a PhD student and was lucky that Femke, together with her friends Nienke and Sanne, wanted to do a short BSc project with me within a plant science course. They were motivated and great to work with. Femke impressed me with her insightful questions and her genuine passion for the project. I was actually sad that this 3-week project was over so quickly. It was fun! Luckily they thought so too. Femke and Nienke came back for their major Master internships with me, this time for a full academic year. In retrospect, this was easily the best time of my PhD studies and time in Utrecht, and mainly because of Femke and Nienke. I think it was the first time that I really felt that we were a small but good team together: we clicked, we worked hard, were motivated, were critical of each other's work, but had so much fun. It's when I realized this could what I wanted to do "later", lead a small team and do cool science.
When Femke started her MSc project with me, I had several potential projects available. One project stood out because it would probably be very challenging and uncertain. Mainly because it was largely outside my expertise. Many of the experiments had yet to be designed and optimized, with obviously no guarantee of success. It would require a lot of self-discipline and a proactive attitude. Femke chose this difficult project. I had high expectations of her, and so did she of herself.
Femke was extremely committed to her project, which I think has also been her strength and key getting success out of it. It was never easy. If you design the most "perfect" experiment technically possible, and you put the amount of energy and passion into it like Femke did, it can sometimes become too much, if everything failed due to sheer bad luck. I remember when she came into my office and bursted into tears: she had already sowed seeds for days on end for a second time in a row now, but the growth chamber had failed again and everything was ruined. Again. The life of a plant scientist... The more satisfying was the excitement and happiness when the experiment succeeded according to Femke's high standards, and she discovered meaningful results. Results that no one had ever discovered before, all planned and performed by Femke (for instance the roGFP2-Orp1 results).
Soon Femke and Nienke had adopted a "catch phrase" from Game of Thrones (which we all liked to watch until the final season): we do not sow. It became an internal joke within our mini-team when another experiment was designed; Femke and Nienke in unison: “we do not sow ”. The click we had together is difficult to explain in words, but Femke's passion, friendliness and compassion made the atmosphere in the group better for almost a year.
Unfortunately, this great time also came to an end, but Femke left us with an extraordinary impression. She completed her MSc with distinction: cum laude. More importantly, she made several important scientific discoveries, and co-authored 2 publications. Unprecedented for most MSc students. One publication came out in 2019, and we celebrated this together extensively. The other came out last week in Plant Physiology. We could no longer celebrate this one together. Normally this is a festive moment, but this time it just hurt. When I heard the news, I still really wanted to do something for Femke and we have dedicated the publication of last week to her (hopefully clearly visible in the proofed version).
Femke taught me an important lesson that I will try to remember daily: there are more important things in life than science. I was so impressed with Femke that I had hoped that she would also wanted to do a PhD. We thought she would be perfect for it. But she clearly let us know: “This is not for me, I want to travel again. Go on adventures and see the world”. Despite Femke leaving us too early, I think Femke was right. I think she has had wonderful adventures travelling. I think in her short time on this blue (green?) planet, she may have had more meaningful adventures and experiences than most people at the end of a long life.
Dear Femke, the way you lived your life, you were and are an example for the ones that were lucky enough to know you. At least to me and I will never forget you. My thoughts are with Femke's family and friends. Having known and closely working together with Femke has been a privilege and I look back with pride and happiness to our time together in Utrecht.
A photo of Femke (on the right) and her friends of when they joined the lab for the first time in 2018, at the end of their mini project with me, and giving their presentation.
This post has been agreed upon, and is supported by Femke's family.