I was always interested in biology and chemistry, but not initially in plants. That interest came, and also experience in doing lab experiments on plants, when I carried out a year’s training in a Plant Research Institute as part of my undergraduate degree course.
I think my most profound memory is early in my career as a junior group leader of a small team (a postdoc, a student and a TA). We knew we were on to something but had not quite pinned it down. One afternoon, the three of them charged into my office and showed me a ‘killer’ result and we then knew we had conclusively nailed it. The sense of that collective achievement was incredibly good.
My most important career decision came at the end of my PhD. I went to an interview for a research scientist position in a small company. It was all fine but when they offered me the job I thought, ‘do I really want to do this’? I decided ‘no’ and instead went to Germany to start a Postdoc.
I think it’s having curiosity – not just specifically for what you’re researching but being interested in other research which can bring new ideas and strategies to your work. Discussing with someone from a different field is usually great fun and you learn unexpected things. Another characteristic is to stay critical and objective. Quite often you’ll get a result which doesn’t fit your expectation. This is usually telling you something important.
If you really enjoy doing research and you’re good at it, there’s everything to go for in academia or a company. In terms of running a group, I would start small and stay small if it suits you. Trust your gut feelings in hiring people. A few really good collegial co-workers can be very efficient and you have more head-space to enjoy science and life.
Quite often young female scientists tell me they’re not keen to start a family with a full-time, demanding research job. I actually think doing academic research provides quite a lot of flexibility and support to organize work and family. When I had young kids, we would dedicate the weekend to them so had to switch off from work. This turned out to be useful, as you are reenergized for work on the Monday.
I’m a bit boring – cooking (that relaxes me), reading, watching a film or series. Great, occasionally, to go out to the ‘Kneipe’ with friends.
Professor and Group leader for “Resistance pathway dynamics in plant immunity”, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne
In CEPLAS since:
Place of birth:
St. Albans, UK