Interview with Katharina Schulz
Of course, the countless and varied opportunities in the study programme. But I also immediately remember the nice, friendly atmosphere. In my free time, for example, this included the student clubs in the basements. They were often the highlight after a long day of studying.
I came to Ilmenau with my boyfriend at the time (now husband) for my study. We lived in the city centre at the beginning and later on the outskirts, because we didn't primarily want the city life or what a big city has to offer. You can do a lot in Ilmenau - if you want to. A bit like the philosophy "You are the architect of your own happiness".
I wanted to study physics, but not only physics. In my opinion it was very exciting that the course of study "Technical Physics" in Ilmenau was designed with many different components, with the aim of preparing students well for an entry into industry.
Not all of them were my personal favourites, "electrical engineering", "technical drawing" and "signals & systems" were also included - but in retrospect, that also has advantages. Because it expands knowledge beyond one's own focus and interests. That's why it's exactly what made the degree programme valuable for me. Especially with regard to my work today, it is precisely this diversity that has once again proved beneficial.
I also really enjoyed the fact that it is a small university and remember well lectures with 4 students and the professor - that is unique. It is a very family-like feeling. Everyone knows each other and because of that there is a close cohesion.
Personally, I think everyone has to decide for themselves what is right for them. At a very familiar campus university, you don't get lost in the crowd. You are visible and have good contact with the professors and lecturers. To this day, I still remember running into the rector while shopping from time to time. That in itself is not unusual, but he knew exactly that I was not just another student, but that we would see each other again the next morning in his lecture. The university is small and familiar, not big and anonymous.
In fact, it was a happy coincidence or serendipity. We had a guest lecture by an employee of Evonik. He told us about his work, the products and the company itself. I already knew it, as there were sites near my hometown. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the company also had exciting tasks for physicists. Actually, that's not unusual, because Evonik is a leading specialty chemicals company with around 33,000 employees worldwide. I did my compulsory internship there in 2007. And after writing my thesis at university and graduating, I got my first job at Evonik in my former internship department the following year.
At that time, I started in process engineering with a focus on product development and innovation, which was very close to my technical degree programme. After a few years, I decided to progress into controlling and have now been a strategy officer for Evonik for a short time. I certainly don't use my knowledge of how to solve differential equations now, but the diversity of my studies and the knowledge of how to solve problems are things that also benefit me today in order to put myself in the shoes of different people and different disciplines.
I actually didn't know that at the time. For me, it has often been a matter of "seizing the opportunity". Sometimes it was also happy coincidences that brought me further. But it is always indispensable not to just wait, but to walk through the world with open eyes, to recognise opportunities and make use of them. It is important to be curious about many things. You should never think in boundaries: "I can only do physics, and physics is the only thing I know". It is important to think broadly: "What can I do? What am I particularly good at, and what do I enjoy doing?"
We always had our lectures at seven in the morning in the first semesters. I found that formative, because you had to be disciplined, you had to really want to do it.
I'm thinking, for example, of the many excursions into nature - on foot, by bike, on skis. I am very sporty myself, I went jogging a lot in the forests around Ilmenau. My husband and I still like to tell our children (6, 8) about the huge mountains of snow that lay in Ilmenau in winter. There are so many little puzzle pieces that I remember very fondly.
We didn't go home every weekend. If only because I had started playing handball in Ilmenau in a club and there were regular games at the weekend. We met up with friends at the weekend, had barbecues, cooked, went cycling or went on trips to Erfurt.
It is difficult to name the absolute favourite place. On my runs to Manebach, past the open-air swimming pool, I came to a bridge at some point. There you were out of the city. Peace and quiet. Sounds of nature. Often the turning point for my run - or I just used the bridge to change perspective to the other side of the river. Maybe not directly a favourite place, but a place that has stayed in my mind! The tranquillity of nature has always been a nice balance to my studies or work.
Yes, actually, I was there afterwards, at the beginning of my job I was there and also tried to establish contact between Evonik and Ilmenau. We were also with the lecturers and I presented the work. I have also guided old fellow students to our company for interviews. I am not the only Ilmenau graduate who works at Evonik, actually. The world is small after all. We are already planning to go there with our children. That we show them where we once studied.
You should get a feeling and an impression of the university. Be there for a talk, take part in taster days, talk to students and lecturers. For Ilmenau, a perfect day to get to know the university would certainly be when the sun is shining, you are standing on campus at the refectory, looking towards Audimax and around it the panorama of the Thuringian Forest and the mountain "Kickelhahn", and you think to yourself: Wow, beautiful here. It can be a moment like that or an inspiring conversation, but in any case it should be a tangible fit for everyone individually.
A network. I could try out many different things, I could network, but I didn't have to. And everyone can make this network as narrow or as wide as they want.