'My friends call me travelling x-ray salesman'
Published: 21 May 2013 07:00 CET
Where are you located and what do you do?
I live in Hamburg and work at the local particle accelerator, which produces high intensity x-ray beams. These are used to do structural analysis for material science research. There are many industrial applications for these techniques, ranging from nanotechnology and electronics to automotive engineering and even food science and cosmetics.
I am a physicist and my job is to know about all of these industrial applications and to assist different companies to get their analysis performed by our experts. I am in the project management group and we also have an EU funded project for the Baltic Sea Region which basically gives companies from the Baltic Sea countries free access to these normally very expensive techniques.
I've been travelling to those countries for meetings, conferences and exhibitions to present the project to potential clients. My friends call me a travelling x-ray salesman.
What brought you to Germany and how long have you been here?
I left New Zealand in May 2006, spent the summer back-packing and then moved to Darmstadt later that year for my first job as a post-doctoral researcher at the Technical University there. My PhD studies in NZ had brought me into contact with many international experts in my field, through conferences and via the contacts of my PhD supervisor. He had actually worked in Germany for years in the 1980s and basically I ended up following his academic footsteps to Germany for post-PhD work.
How did you land your job and do you have tips for anyone seeking similar work?
I met a German professor of physics at a conference hosted by my University in New Zealand. He was a friend and colleague of my own PhD supervisor, working in the same field of research and he spent a week at our institute after the conference. After my PhD was finished I just emailed him and asked if he had anything available for a post-doctoral research fellow, and within a few months I had a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and was on a train to Darmstadt. It all happened pretty fast.
My top tip for any non-Germans wanting to do post-doctoral research here is to apply for a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation which provides free German lessons, relocation costs, health insurance as well as a healthy salary.
Is it important for you to be able to speak German in your position?
In the world of scientific research, everyone can speak English so it's no problem do all of your professional work without being able to speak German. With our Baltic Sea project, we have partners in nine countries so all the communication is in English, and I am the only native English speaker so it is actually an advantage.
Of course, all of my German colleagues speak German and prefer to hold smaller group meetings in German, so quite often I'd be pretty lost if I couldn't understand something – although even after six years the administrative stuff is still way over my head.
What are the key differences practising your profession here and your home country?
In Germany it seems quite common for students to want to study science, but in New Zealand it is still not a very popular career choice. On the other hand, in New Zealand it is possible to complete your PhD at the age of 25, while in Germany most people don't get their doctor-hat until they are about 31.
It means that I am much younger than most of my colleagues, which is quite a unique experience. New Zealand doesn't have great big particle accelerators or such a strong research infrastructure as Germany, so there I would be limited to working at a university or small industrial company.
What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?
As a New Zealander, my favourite part is the ease in which you can just travel anywhere in Europe within a few hours with barely any planning necessary. It is definitely a lot more fun than the 30+ hours, and around €1,500 required to travel from New Zealand to about anywhere else.
I must admit that I have grown very accustomed to the typical German traditions of trains and buses running (more or less) on time, well organised infrastructures, eating sauerkraut, and that Germans place such a high importance of holidays.
Some of the worst things for a foreigner is the mountain of paperwork which accompanies almost everything, and that no-one around even understands why I would want to watch cricket or rugby, and they certainly don't want to watch it with me.
Do you plan on staying?
I have one more year to go at my current job and life in Hamburg is good so I'd like to stay longer than that. I am not quite ready to go back to New Zealand yet, and for now I have no real desire to move to a different European country and learn yet another language.
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