TUM Ambassador Maya Schuldiner

„Science must be family-friendly“

In her lab in Israel, TUM Ambassador Maya Schuldiner believes that true gender equality is of great importance. The successful molecular geneticist together with her husband and their three children moved to Munich for a one year research stay at TUM.

At the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Maya Schuldiner is researching baker’s yeast as a model organism. The genome sequence of the yeast fungus has been known for over twenty years. But to date, only a fraction of its proteins have been studied. Many of these proteins have similar functions in human cells, where mutations in the genes encoding them can cause cellular changes and thus serious diseases. In her laboratory, the molecular geneticist wants to close these gaps in our knowledge of yeast proteins – and thereby save human lives.Maya Schuldiner wanted to spend her sabbatical year in the laboratory of the world’s leading researcher in this field. And so her path led her to the TUM in Munich. She was joined by her husband, Oren Schuldiner, who is also a scientist, and their three children. “Without my husband, I couldn’t be the scientist I want to be,” affirms the multi-award-winning researcher. “If you are happy in your private life, then your research benefits from it too.”

Beyond the professional benefit

Maya Schuldiner had already heard a lot about TUM Professor Thomas Misgeld. She knew that the head of the Institute of Neuronal Cell Biology at the TUM School of Medicine was researching the same functional area of cells as she was. Instead of yeast, his lab uses mice as model organisms. In the focus group “Subcellular Dynamics in Neurons,” the experts from Israel and Germany merged their knowledge of yeast and mice. New insights into the locomotion and communication of organelles in cells were thus gained. “Being part of the TUM community allows me to think beyond the boundaries of my lab and see a much broader scientific horizon,” says Maya Schuldiner. “The year I spent in Munich was one of the best scientific years of my life. I am very grateful to TUM for this opportunity and experience.”

As part of the TUM community, I was able to think beyond the boundaries of my laboratory.

To this day, Maya Schuldiner draws on her collaboration with Professor Thomas Misgeld not only professionally, but also privately. When she returned to Israel, she even increased the focus of her laboratory work on cell metabolism – inspired by her German colleague. The two scientists regularly exchange ideas in virtual meetings. But they also meet together with their entire family at conferences and then spend their free time together. “It’s a friendship for life,” says Maya Schuldiner.

Maya Schuldiner is also grateful for the scientific exchange with her husband Oren Schuldiner, who also works at the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2017, he had been able to accompany his wife to TUM through the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. “We discuss science all the time,” Maya Schuldiner says. “There’s something very special about having someone around who cares about you and your success and also really understands what you’re doing.”

The couple not only shares science interests, but naturally also shares the care of their three children with each other. “I’ve realized over the years that you can do much better science when you’re happy and energized,” Maya Schuldiner says. “That happiness lies in being able to have enough time for your partner, children, friends and hobbies in addition to your work.”

At Maya Schuldiner’s Lab, this life motto is a key priority  – and applies equally to men and women. “True gender equality can only be ensured if science is family-friendly,” affirms Maya Schuldiner. “It’s important that both female and male scientists can enjoy a rich family life while pursuing their scientific careers.”

Connecting people

In 2020, Maya Schuldiner was awarded the honorary title of TUM Ambassador by TUM President Thomas F. Hofmann. In recognition of their achievements, this title has been awarded once a year since 2013 to selected top international researchers. “As a TUM Ambassador, I want to show that intercultural collaboration is not only a way to advance science and improve the future of humanity,” says Maya Schuldiner. “It’s also a way to overcome differences and identify commonalities. It’s a way to bring people together.” In this spirit, Maya Schuldiner wants to continue to engage with the TUM community and share her experiences with them. In spring 2021, she will speak about careers in science and balancing family and careers at a Women of TUM afterwork.