Wenn in der Küche Laborgläser stehen – Saskia Braun

Saskia Braun: @coffee_and_chemistry

How old are you?


Where do you live?

Heidelberg - Germany

What did you study?

Chemistry Bachelor + Master's degree

What are your hobbies?

Singing, Fitness, Science communication

Do you have any funny/weird spleens?

I'm the slowest eater ever. My boyfriend always says that I look while I’m eating like I don’t want to hurt my food.

You are a scientist. What exactly do you do?

I'm working on the synthesis and investigation of new materials for 3D printing.

Is it what you imagined before you started studying or did you have a wrong idea about studying and research?

Lab work is how I expected it to be. But I didn't think that becoming a scientist means working that many hours every week.

Do you always have to explain to people what you do? Or is it clear to most people right away?

I am lucky that I work in the 3D printing field. Everyone nowadays knows what a 3D printer is. People understand why I'm working on my topic. What I do in detail I need to explain nevertheless.

How do you explain your job?

I'm a chemist. I design molecules that should have a specific property, for example, low shrinkage while polymerisation. I synthesise these molecules and investigate if they really got the properties, I thought about in advance.

On social media, you try to get young people excited about science. Why? Is science not attractive enough?

I think science still underlies the stigma of many prejudices. When I was a teacher the sentence, I heard the most from students was "But you don't look and act like a chemist". Many students think that you need to be a certain type to go into STEM, as this is what is shown on TV shows. I want to change that and show students that you can be a scientist and still be interested in fashion or sports.

Specifically, do lab and science jobs have an image problem?

I can't answer that in general cause I grew up very close to BASF (a German publicly listed chemical company), Roche and Abbvie. Everyone in my region recommends you to go into industry. Two of my grandparents worked for BASF. Everyone knows a few people who work there. So we get a realistic insight from an early age about how it is to work in the scientific field. I'm biased regarding this question. However, I can imagine that it can become a little bit abstractly when you don't know anyone who works in science.

How did you get your job? Have you always had an interest in STEM and science?

I liked science from an early stage. My parents bought me science kits like "Grow your own crystals - for kids". My mum is a pharmaceutical-commercial assistant. She loves old laboratory glassware and seeing them around our kitchen definitely ignited a spark of passion for chemistry in me. Additionally, I was lucky to have good chemistry teachers, except for one year. Role models are very important.

We learned that your mother is a pharmaceutical-commercial assistant. Is she the reason you are a scientist today?

She is one reason of course. Both of my parents always let me go after what I was interested in. I never had to face gender barriers and was for example never told that I can't do STEM subjects because I'm a girl. Not every friend I got was that lucky.

How did she spark your enthusiasm?

Additionally, she went with us to science museums and took me to work with her.

Were there any other reasons for your enthusiasm? Friends, family, idols, etc?

Especially during A levels, I had an awesome chemistry teacher. He made chemistry fun. Also, my grandmother worked in a photo laboratory and I loved her stories.

What would you have studied if you hadn't gone to the pharmacy museum and other science museums with your mom who got you excited about it?

Opera singing. I started learning opera singing when I was 9 years old. It's still my passion.

Have you had a dream job as a little child? Was it different than now?

Being a singer.

During the pandemic, did you think to yourself "Finally, everyone understands how important our work is"?

I feel like there are two sides. The one that understood that we do very important work and the other who believes that every scientist works for "big pharma" and is basically a criminal. As I said before, I work in the 3D printing field. But still, I get messages on Instagram that I should stop spreading the word for "big pharma". It's ridiculous.

Do you feel that more young people are interested in research and laboratory careers since the Corona pandemic?

To be honest I don't know. The pandemic made it really hard to get in contact with younger people. Every meeting, if it even takes place, is online. Sometimes I present somewhere about studying for a STEM degree and no one asks anything, sometimes they ask me more than I have time to answer questions. But I only see them in these few minutes and don't have the opportunity anymore to talk with them after the presentation is done.

In a study we found that many young people are interested in the laboratory but still do not take up the profession. Where do you see the problem?

Studying for a STEM degree is very hard. One spends about 50 h a week at the university and afterwards needs to study at home. This scares off a lot of students. Additionally, there is still a lot of bias toward young people who need to make up their own living. Even with my parents paying my rent I had two side jobs to afford the rest. There were very few people who studied with me who had a side job. Professors expect you to have none. I was asked questions like "Oh you feel like you are not satisfied with studying?" I answered that "I am, but my wallet is not". There still needs to be done a lot until everyone in Germany got equal basic requirements. I was close to quitting very often because I didn't know how to handle work + studying at the same time.

What do you enjoy most about working in research and the lab?

I love that there are many different things to do. Every day is different. I can do laboratory work, teach students, be creative in planning synthesis, and work at the computer. My work is never boring.

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