From Technicalities to Hydrobiology

A second new life inspired by a trip to a Norwegian island and a true passion for biology. A courageous path that led Marta Demarteau, a 33-year-old Dutch woman, to move from her job as a technical writer to become a hydrobiologist.

Marta Demarteau collects samples of water for analysis

Marta Demarteau collects samples of water for analysis

The Netherlands is not just a land that hosts multinational companies such as Shell, Philips and KPMG but also a country committed to promoting research in many different fields. At Aquon Institute, Marta, who lives in Goirle with her boyfriend and her baby daughter, found her perfect fit working on analyses of water quality.

ws From working with programming technologies and technical documents to researching nature: how did you make this change?
md First of all, I had a nagging feeling during my working days… it seemed like I just wasn’t in the right place. I knew I could do more than designing help systems, flyers and courses for IT businesses. I had also worked as a quality manager for a health and safety organization and as a credit manager for a health insurance company – both quite “static” jobs in which I didn’t feel fulfilled. I decided that I needed a radical change of perspective. Due to a reorganization there were some changes in play and, although I was offered a new job at the same company, I decided to just quit. I had never done such a rash thing on the spur of the moment. Still, intuitively it felt as if it was the right thing to do. I am a great believer in intuition. Reason is about understanding choices and keeping a healthy financial situation, but intuition is about trusting a “gut feeling” and believing it will get me where I want to be. I couldn’t have been more right.

ws When did this new challenge start and why did you choose to become a biologist?
md My first challenge was an expedition to Spitsbergen by boat, way up in the high Arctic. The trip itself and my stay took over a month, during which I found my true self again, believing that I had to do more with my interest in nature and above all with my special “bond” with water. After the expedition I started a new course at the Open University called environmental sciences, along with an internship. Well, as it happened, I knew someone who could help me. During the expedition to the Arctic I met a marine mammal biologist who arranged an internship for me at the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies, part of Wageningen University on the Isle of Texel in the north of the Netherlands. I took part in research on the haul-out behavior of common seals on the mudflats. After my internship I found a job analyzing cyanobacteria samples at AQUON, a laboratory that mainly works for the Dutch water boards. I learned a lot about phytoplankton on the job. After three years I finally got a permanent contract as a hydrobiologist in phytoplankton. I have always been captivated by the dynamics of nature, so becoming a biologist is no surprise… When I was growing up I was mainly focused on birds and marine mammals. As a teenager I began to photograph my surroundings – urban nature and wild nature. That led to my interest in ecology and ethology, and I was eager to learn more about the living things and landscapes that I photographed. I also have an intense fascination for water: snow, glaciers, oceans, pools, fens, and so on. It seemed only natural to me to take the step from arts, culture and commercial work to biology. Looking back, I can’t comprehend why it took so long to make the move.

ws What are your main responsibilities?
md I work as a hydrobiologist in phytoplankton at AQUON, the institute for water research and advice. AQUON is a laboratory for the Dutch water boards in the southwest of the Netherlands, and is the biggest laboratory in our country working on analysis of water quality. My main responsibilities are analyzing samples of phytoplankton in line with the European Water Framework Directive, writing ecological reports and protocols, developing expertise by attending expert meetings and updating our literature database, participating in special projects involving fieldwork and field courses, and promotional work such as giving lectures and training.

Marta Demarteau tags the samples to take them to the lab

Marta Demarteau tags the samples to take them to the lab

ws Which are the most interesting aspects of your current job and what are the challenges?
md Nowadays, I mainly determine species of phytoplankton in samples in the laboratory. It’s always astonishing to find rare or new species. The most interesting part is probably writing the ecological reports – interpreting the results of phytoplankton species in terms of the ecological conditions of a lake or fen hollow. Eventually this leads to giving professional advice to our customers from the Dutch water boards. My challenge is to expand my expertise. In a few years I want to become a senior hydrobiologist in phytoplankton, and this involves developing my research skills through education – continuing my pre-master’s and later on my master’s in environmental sciences – and by participating in special projects and expert meetings.

ws Did your cultural background influence your career change?
md Possibly it was triggered by the idea of “space.” In the Netherlands it is quite crowded, with lots of noise and other distractions. I tend to look for silence, for open places and the desolation of nature. My cultural background is therefore much different than, say, someone from north Norway with a mountain range in the backyard and no property boundaries. In my career I therefore prefer to go into the field now and again to find “my open space.”

ws Has your relationship with nature changed since becoming a biologist?
md People tend to think that nature and the environment are separate concepts outside of us, like economics and politics. I believe in deep ecology – that nature has an intrinsic value in itself, not only a monetary value. Nature is dynamic, complex, inventive and part of us all – in a quantum perspective – not only outside us but also inside us, at the core of our own existence. Consequently, my bond with nature has always been intense and my curiosity about how nature works keeps growing and growing.

ws What about the relationship between your work and your passion for travel photography? They are two different ways of looking at nature: through scientific instruments in one case and through a camera in the other.
md The camera can be a creative way to “paint” how we perceive nature in all its beauty, cruelty and roughness. We can only admire what we observe, and photographs are a great way to let someone take a peek at a special place or living entity without actually being there. At the same time, a camera can be a scientific instrument! With our professional microscopes we can examine and photograph algae in water samples. Algae are 3D too, with all different kinds of geometric forms and polygonal outlines. We are able to capture this characteristic by taking Z-stack images; this is a digital image that consists of layers of photographs, like an MRI scan. If we produce a Z-stack image to capture the algae as a whole, we are able to study the material afterwards, exactly as we encountered them. So I believe photography can be creative and scientific at the same time, being complementary to each other. And it’s a gateway to show everyone how captivating the world can be, in a macro and micro perspective.


freccia “Sometimes emotional investment is what you need to have a great idea,
with no need for big budgets to get things going.”

Anna Khaude is the founder and CEO of Affordable Yoga and Affordable Fitness Projects. Prior to this she worked at KPMG and was named employee of the year.

ws What did you do before running a community yoga project?
ak I was working as a management consultant at KPMG in London.

ws What made you change so dramatically from a consulting role?
ak I had almost always imagined myself running my own business and was looking for that perfect idea. For me, the key missing ingredient was the connection between my work and any tangible difference I saw I was making for the clients on a personal level.

ws What are you doing now?
ak Now I am running Affordable Yoga. I started in February 2013 and since then it has developed from just a few hatha yoga classes a week to over 30 hours of various styles of yoga and fitness classes all over Paris. We also offer combined workshops and retreats. We plan to expand into other cities within the next year.

ws What was your investment in this career change?
ak I invested in getting a personal training diploma and then a yoga teacher qualification, a laptop and a printer! But the biggest investment was emotional; it was pretty difficult to adjust to the role of an “officially unemployed with no real plans for any kind of start-up idea” person.

ws Are you satisfied now?
ak I work very hard and a lot, but most days are the greatest rewarding and wonderful work experience I could have ever wished for, especially when customers tell me that I have helped them battle depression or keep balance when they lost their job.

 “Ifreccia still want to be part of the corporate world, contributing through projects focused
on the individual and taking advantage of artistic expressions like yoga and pottery experiences.”

Elio Cristiani, after a successful career in marketing,  became a professional potter, following his passion for the charming world of raku pottery.

ws What were you doing before you opened your pottery laboratory?
ec I graduated in economics from Bocconi University with a specialization in marketing, and I soon received a job offer from JP Morgan. After that experience, I worked in the consumer field for five years, then as head of marketing in the publishing and food industries.

ws What is your current occupation?
ec I have always been keen on pottery, and particularly the raku technique, thanks to an artist friend of mine who introduced me to this wonderful hobby. In 2012, following a difficult period at work, I decided to start my personal artistic project. In January 2012 I organized my first pottery course in Milan and last September I inaugurated a new artistic space called “manualmente lab,” where people can participate in courses and buy my handmade work.

ws What kind of investment did you make in this change?
ec I have invested 20,000 euros in the laboratory, which means the purchase of furniture and instruments and the rental of the building. To be honest, it wasn’t so difficult to start my dream because by 2013 I managed to write off the expenses of starting a business.

ws What are your working projects for the future?
ec I’ve been working in the corporate sector for several years and I still like it. That’s why, even if I’ve changed profession, I’m going to propose some activities for employees working at companies. It’s not traditional consulting, but projects based on yoga and pottery.

freccia “Although all the facors that make a perfect job were there, my love of food and cooking became my high road.”

Francesca De Lucchi is an Italian entrepreneur managing a traditional take-away restaurant called Divina Piadina in the heart of Milan. She founded her company after leaving a promising career in the commercial division of an IT company.

ws What were you doing before you started to manage a “piadineria”?
fdl After graduating in economics at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, I started working for a company in their commercial division in a managerial role. I was always traveling abroad and was in charge of many tasks, but I also had great rewards.

ws What is your occupation now?
fdl I currently manage a traditional “piadineria” in Milan, the city where I live. I started this challenge in 2006 and now it is my full-time job, although it allows me to have much more spare time than my previous job at the company. At the beginning it was not easy.

ws What made you change?
fdl I have always been keen on cooking and I have always been attracted by the food service sector. But the main thing that convinced me to change was my desire to spend more time with my family, and especially with my daughter.

ws What investment did you make in this career change?
fdl It was 2006 and compared to now it was quite easy to get 30,000 euros to start a business. Recently I have restructured the rooms and, because of the recession, it has been harder to obtain a loan.

ws What is the secret to change management without regrets?
fdl For me, it’s important to have a very entrepreneurial attitude and to be decisive. In my case, this approach has helped me to get what I wanted: personal satisfaction and a perfect trade-off between private and working life.


Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2014