Rochester Medicine

Profiles in Perseverance — Ania Majewska, PhD

Aug. 31, 2019
Women Leaders Share Their Stories

This profile is part of the story Women Unlimited: Closing the Gender Gap in Medicine and Science.

Ania Majewska heard a familiar refrain when she announced she was going into neuroscience.

Ania Majewska, PhD, Professor in the Center for Visual Science and the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
Ania Majewska, PhD, Professor in the Center for Visual Science and the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

It’s going to be so hard. You’ll be working constantly. You won’t have time for a family.

“There was definitely a scare

factor to it, and I had to think very seriously about my choices going forward,” she says. “There just wasn’t a clear alternative for what else I would do, because I just love my job. It does require dedication, but not nearly as many sacrifices as people say it does.”

One of the main reasons Majewska followed her passion is because, unlike many places around the country at which she interviewed, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry had several senior-level females with families.

That doesn’t mean everyone understood where she was coming from.

When Majewska first started her lab, she received the same advice from three different senior male scientists—to hold off on hiring anyone for the first year and work 24/7 to set up the lab herself.

“I thought this was very interesting, given that they knew I had a 6-week-old infant at home,” she says.

Over time, Majewska, whose specific interests lie in understanding how visual activity shapes the structure and function of connections between neurons in the visual cortex, found that her family gave her perspective on her work.

“I used to take every small problem or failure at work to heart, but I no longer have the time or energy to do that,” she explains, adding that the issues tend to resolve themselves even when she doesn’t stress as much about them.

Moreover, she has taken multi-tasking to a level she never thought possible. For instance, during a 15-minute lull she is equally liable to be working on a grant or planning an on-the-go menu for a son who has celiac disease and a slew of after-school activities.

“Being able to manage everything—most days—has given me more confidence in my abilities,” Majewska says. “The need for that sort of efficiency has also made me much less tolerant of wasting my time. I know to focus on the things I think are really important, both at home and at work.”

Majewska’s research with post-doctoral associate Marie-Ève Tremblay, PhD, led to a landmark paper in 2010—a detailed look at how brain cells interact with each other and react to their environment swiftly, reaching out constantly to form new links or abolish connections. That relationship was one of the highlights of her career.

“I have three kids, she has three kids,” Majewska says, “and I love the idea that we can be at the forefront of cutting-edge science and still have lives.”