Women in Science: Flexible as a Double Helix

It was the biology class at high school that sparked my interest in science. I was fascinated by the Watson-Crick double helix and the operon model of Jacob-Monod. So, I decided to learn more about these things and studied biology with the clear aim to go into molecular biology and genetics. As I knew that, at some point in life, I wanted to have children, I pushed myself a little bit in order not to get too old before starting a job. Maybe having this in mind helped me to be more focused in pursuing my exams and my thesis. After finishing my thesis at the Max Planck Institute, I was curious to learn new things and decided to start a postdoctoral training course in the pharmaceutical industry. Here I had the chance not only to do basic research but also to become familiar with the entire drug development process. I am now running my own laboratory doing research in the field of female reproductive biology.

In addition, 2 years ago I became managing director of the Ernst Schering Research Foundation. This is a nonprofit organization supporting basic science in the fields of biology, chemistry, and medicine by various activities such as organizing workshops and lectures and granting doctoral as well as postdoctoral fellowships.

In general, I can say that I have never felt any prejudice due to being a woman during my entire career so far, neither at university nor in industry. According to my impression, the key to success is to become enthusiastic about your work and to create a positive and inspiring working atmosphere.

However, being a woman who is committed to her job, the question of children inevitably arises when you reach a certain age. Regarding a career, it never seemed to be the right time. So I came to the conclusion that, if you really wanted to have children, you just had to have them. Now my daughter is 1 year old and neither I nor my husband would miss her for the world.

However, from the beginning of my pregnancy I made up my mind how I could handle two jobs and still find enough time for my child and my husband. It seemed that only a very flexible and individual approach could allow me to fulfill all my tasks. I developed a model and my bosses and the company were very helpful. I got some support in my daily lab work, meaning that a scientist took over part of my research projects for 1 year. Heading the Ernst Schering Research Foundation allowed me to be more flexible, as I could do part of my work from home. But this also meant long working hours at night, when my daughter was asleep and at weekends, when my husband took care of her. He supported and still supports me in many ways as my duties for Schering often require working in the evening and traveling on business trips.

In summary, I would like to point out that I never did regret my decision to have children. Also, I still enjoy my job very much. However, combining a challenging job and family means a high level of organization, flexibility, creativity, and--not forgetting--hard work. Without the support of my bosses, my co-workers, and especially my husband, it would not have been possible to find a solution we all could live with happily.

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