Dr. Schommartz, you pursued a classically academic career path: Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Lübeck, a research placement in Singapore. The Bachelor and Master degrees were then followed by a doctoral thesis at the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology in Hamburg. When did your focus turn to the business side of things?
Yes, I followed the traditional research career path. However, in my role as PhD representative during the four years of my doctorate, I came to realize that I really enjoyed working with people. Having completed one year as a postdoc, there was an interesting offer for a position split between Hamburg and California. Deep down though, I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days dedicated to a particular scientific topic. Also, the general setup for a career in research was not entirely appealing: temporary contracts, project positions, limited research funding, to give just a few examples. The fact of the matter is, I was looking at other options anyway and it just so happened that I was contacted by a headhunter, who passed my CV on to Eppendorf. I went through all the standard application channels and was delighted to receive an offer.
Your first position at Eppendorf was “Applications Specialist”. What does this involve exactly?
There are two routes taken in this role. The first is more technical, primarily involving product development and mainly in cooperation with the development teams for Mechanics and Software. I’ve gone in the other direction which is more market-oriented, where the applications specialist represents the link between company and customer. Either way, it’s essential to know what exactly is done with the Eppendorf products in the lab, i.e. how things work when it comes to the laboratory and research. It’s a classic entry-level position for scientists. I’ve attended plenty of training and have been able to combine my passion for science with new ideas from the world of sales, marketing and portfolios. Many of my colleagues when I started off can now be found in other roles: as project managers in development, portfolio or product managers, several have managerial responsibility or have taken on specialist roles in application.
You have been at Eppendorf now for four years. How have you been supported by the company and your supervisors during your time here?
I didn’t entirely trust myself to make the right move at the start, I was lacking courage. However, I found my feet within the first two weeks. This was possible thanks to the extremely professional onboarding process at Eppendorf, during which plenty was done to ensure I had the tools to navigate my new role. The company setup ensures that further training is provided for the acquisition of new skills. Every employee has the opportunity to set out a personal development plan with their manager and there is also the more recent Talent Management Program. Of course, this is all proactively pursued by the employees themselves. For the “Individual Development Plan”, or IDP for short, every employee can discuss their professional goals with their manager. I highlighted Marketing and Product Management as areas in which I wish to progress. And my manager supported me extensively in this!
How did you end up in Global Marketing?
During my time as an applications specialist, I became aware of how much I enjoyed marketing: the focus of a campaign, the most suitable sales pitch, the materials needed. As someone who is interested in art, Design was another area that fascinated me. When a full-time position was advertised internally, I took my chances and applied. Honestly, it was not even on my radar during my studies, but it’s actually something that’s right up my street: plenty of networking with others, combined with global responsibility. I am currently going through another development process too, with my sights now set on managerial responsibility. Having excellent managers during my time here, who took their responsibility very seriously and allowed me enough room to personally develop, may well have played a role in this decision.
How do you compare your current opportunities for development with the conditions provided for scientific research?
An academic career path is narrow, you take one step after another and back then, I kept my focus. And something that shouldn’t be underestimated: career opportunities in the scientific field are limited. There are several postdoc positions, however chairs for professors are few and far between. The opportunities to further my career are in industry. And by this, I mean I have the opportunity here to prove my ability in new fields of work. I’m currently taking part in a program, for example, that focuses on diversity and inclusion, a topic of personal interest to me. I’m also present at job fairs and universities as an “Employer Brand Ambassador” where I give talks about my work. To sum up: I’ve never regretted making the move to a company.
The benefits in industry no doubt play a role, right?
Of course, a company presents the more attractive financial option. Whether that involves a higher salary, bonus payments or a company pension scheme. Flexible working hours and health promotion measures such as sports classes or the corona vaccination also add to the appeal. For me personally, though, it was far more about content: the scope of duties, further training, opportunities for development. In other words, the chosen career path, advanced in-house training, mentoring. Not to mention exciting project coordination, superb managerial staff and great colleagues.
Before we finish, what tips can you share with any scientists out there who are currently at a crossroads between research and industry?
It depends on their current academic situation. I would advise anyone just starting out in their scientific career, i.e. Bachelor or Master students, to check out the options for an industrial internship. It’s then worth trying to directly enter the industrial field through various trainee programs. Or why not write your thesis on a business-related topic? An MBA is a very powerful combination of basic scientific knowledge and business skills. A basic understanding of business processes and terms is often required in addition to scientific expertise. This knowledge is accumulated on the job, however anyone who already has it starting off will certainly have a major advantage! I would advise those people with more experience, who have already written their thesis or have secured a postdoc position, to write your letters of application, stay flexible and possibly even secure an additional business qualification: sales training or something similar. From my own personal experience and that of many colleagues and former fellow students, I can say that if you’re looking for a change, the earlier you do it the easier it will be.