Women in science: "Network, stay on the ball and think positively"

With outstanding research, female scientists at TU Ilmenau raise the profile of the university and contribute to the progress of our society. In the interview series "Women in Science", female scientists at TU Ilmenau share about their careers and provide insights into their everyday teaching and research.

Dr. Jialan Cao-Riehmer is a PostDoc at the Institute of Chemistry and Bioengineering. Head of the Microfluid Biotechnique Research Group and at the same time mother of two children. In this interview, Dr. Cao-Riehmer explains why women who aspire to an academic career should not give up their desire to have children and how young female scientists in particular can be encouraged to do so.

Stefan Riehmer  Stefan Riehmer

Dr. Cao-Riehmer, what drives you to teach and research?

Continuous learning and acquiring knowledge is not only enriching and fun for me - it also boosts my self-confidence, sparks my curiosity about the world, and helps me develop important life skills. Research allows me to pursue my interests and learn something new while improving my problem-solving skills and challenging myself in new ways all the time.

What excites you about your field?

Microfluidics for biotechnological applications is an exciting and very interdisciplinary field of research: whether it is the development of new microfluidic devices, miniaturized sensor technology or the optimization of microfluidic processes. Due to the versatility of the fields of application, a lot of different know-how from biology, chemistry, engineering and computer science is also required, and I find bringing all of this together very profitable.

What does your daily teaching and research routine at the TU Ilmenau look like?

My daily teaching and research routine consists of a combination of lab experiments, coffee making, discussions, reading and writing. Most mornings I answer emails and organize appointments. When we plan an experiment, I always start in the morning. Unfortunately, I have less time to experiment in the lab myself now. Supervising doctoral students and undergraduates is part of the daily routine. Team meetings are held regularly, but exchanges with colleagues often take place in the tea kitchen, where many good ideas emerge. When writing, I am most productive when I am more or less alone in the building.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

I have a very good team and my professor has been very supportive, so I have kept the ball rolling. For example, relatively early in my PhD, my supervisor sent me to national and international conferences to present the results of my work. Experiencing the scientific community and also discussing with it, meeting people from all kinds of countries, talking about your own ideas and experiencing new impulses - I thought that was great and that's where I always wanted to continue.

What hurdles have you personally experienced in your scientific career that men are less likely to encounter?

I lacked self-confidence in the beginning. Only with time and feedback from colleagues did I start to believe in myself. That is usually easier for men.

What advice would you give to female colleagues who also want to pursue a career in science?

Be brave! Self-doubt is normal, especially because you often don't get any support from your environment and you don't get much encouragement. Network, stay on the ball and think positively! If you want to have children and a family, don't decide against it. It's not always easy, but my children have made me better again in many ways, such as communication, tolerance, adaptability, and time management.

Another piece of advice is to take advantage of Rowena Morse's mentoring program. The combination of mentoring, coaching, higher education policy education, experience sharing and networking makes participants mutually stronger.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I spend a lot of time with my family, and I also pursue my hobbies and volunteer.

Do you have a favorite place on campus and if so, what do you like most about it?

The path to campus leads between the Ilmenau ponds. It's quiet here and you can let your mind wander.


Dr. Jialan Cao-Riehmer

PostDoc at the Institute of Chemistry and Bioengineering