One of my earliest memories is of watching my 97-year-old great-grandma applying the classic NIVEA cream to her face--the only cream she ever used. I was about 3 years old at the time, and it certainly never occurred to me, or my great grandmother, that I would one day work for the company that is globally known for manufacturing the NIVEA products: Beiersdorf AG.
In high school, my interest in science was encouraged by an inspiring teacher who laid the foundation for my decision to study chemistry. I got hooked very fast by the complex and intriguing processes that take place in nature, and I had no doubt that spending my career in science was the right professional choice. I received my master's degree in chemistry from the University of Kiel in 1995, specialising in the determination of crystal structures of inorganic compounds.
However, I quickly realised that interdisciplinary research is the most effective and promising approach in science, so I chose to do a PhD in the field of biomedicine, investigating how neurons in the nervous system react upon injury. After receiving my PhD from the department of pharmacology at the University of Kiel in 1998, I went to the University of Florida as a postdoctoral fellow to work on gene expression patterns in neuronal cells.
So it wasn't until October 2000 that I took a closer look at NIVEA cream. I was deliberately looking to move into another field, and I wanted to work for a consumer-goods company with an excellent reputation. I saw an ad to work for Beiersdorf, and before actually applying, I thoroughly researched the company itself and its scientific interests. The scientific papers published by Beiersdorf, together with conversations with several of my future colleagues during my job interview, swiftly convinced me that state-of-the-art research was being performed there.
Support From Colleagues, Interdisciplinary Emphasis
So I changed fields again--this time to skin physiology. Starting my new job therefore meant that my first task was to catch up with the relevant literature. A big plus was the strong support I received from my colleagues, who filled me in scientifically and also helped me with the other areas of my job. The work environment was also really encouraging, the company putting a strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity and making sure new employees interacted with colleagues from different departments.
For me, changing scientific fields has been very enjoyable, because it has given me the opportunity to gain a lot of experience in different areas and to learn a variety of experimental approaches. At the same time, I think that my particular background was regarded as an asset for Beiersdorf, because it enables me to look at some things from a different angle.
After about a year and a half as a postdoc, I was promoted to head a research laboratory; there was a job opening in this lab, and I was recommended by the head of the department. Today, my team consists of 6 people, and together we tackle questions centred around skin physiology. Specifically, we try to identify novel mechanisms that play a central role in temporal and photo-ageing of skin, with a focus on changes in the connective tissue and their modulation by stress and age.
Matching Science With the Consumer's Perspective
What I enjoy most in my current position is the multifaceted nature of this job. Certainly, science plays the major role in my daily occupations, but studying skin physiology with my team is only one aspect of this position. The job is truly interdisciplinary and very interactive. Developing new concepts for active ingredients against skin aging, and discussing them with colleagues from product development and marketing, is quite a challenge.
Looking at issues from the consumer's perspective is also crucial when it comes to improving skin care products. Transferring these needs into scientific questions and solving them is an aspect that distinguishes this job from working in academia. It requires creativity and flexibility, because hard scientific data need to be translated into product claims that truly matter to consumers. Altogether, this position in the cosmetic industry offers me the opportunity to further develop my personal skills.
Now, as a 34-year-old, I enjoy working for a company that has a well-known reputation and long tradition in skin care. The greatest thrill for me comes from working towards one goal: solving scientific problems in skin physiology that are crucial to making NIVEA products even better.