Women in Chemistry — Interview with Ulrike Flad

Women in Chemistry — Interview with Ulrike Flad

Author: Vera Köster, Ulrike Flad

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011) and the centenary of Marie Curie’s Nobel prize in Chemistry. Therefore, ChemViews will introduce interesting women throughout the year.

Ulrike Flad is the granddaughter of the founder of the Dr. Flad Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, which specializes in vocational and professional training in Chemistry, Pharmacy, Biotechnology and the Environment. She plans to follow her family tradition and take over the management of the school from her father. 

Please tell us a bit about how your career has developed?

After studying agricultural biology in Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany, I did research projects at McGill University, Montréal, Canada, and in Tours, France. I worked some years at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria, and at a governmental research center. The main part of that work was plant protection — chemical and biological — on which I wrote my PhD.


When did decide to work at the Institute Dr. Flad, the school your family founded?

In 2004, after completing my studies and PhD, having spent some years doing research, I decided to work at the school. As a researcher, I really enjoyed international conferences and the exchange with other scientists, but those highlights were rare treats: most of the time I worked by myself in some laboratory. That was one of the main reasons I started to work for my father’s vocational school.

Now, I’m part of a team — a very special team, as the school is a family business. And I get to work with people; a lot of different people: students, parents, teachers, and scientists …


Can you say a bit more about the Institute Dr. Flad?

The Dr. Flad Institute is a state-recognized vocational and professional school for Chemistry, Pharmacy, Biotechnology and the Environment. By numbers we are the largest vocational school for chemistry in Germany, but with a total of 350 students the school is still relatively small, ensuring that students are coached on a very personal level for the two years that they attend. We offer additional tutorials free of charge in order to support every single student. Students with outstanding achievements will have their school fees returned upon their graduation.

Generally, our graduates stand very good chances of gaining employment and are sought after in the business world. It’s not only the students’ academic training that’s close to our hearts — we strive to educate and mold them into rounded young adults. To this end we offer various work shops, such as drama and sports. The students can also participate in a lot of (international) projects like GLOBE — an environmental project initiated by Al Gore — or student exchange programs with France or the Czech Republic, for example. For years now, we have been one of the UNESCO Associated Schools which offers ample opportunities for involvement as well. The United Nations proclaimed the years 2005 to 2014 the World Decade of Education for Sustainable Development; the institute has been recognized within this framework by UNESCO four times already.


What do you enjoy most about your career?

The leadership and administration of a school is a multifaceted job. I love to work with people and training young chemical academics is a very important challenge. Last but not least, it is an honour to be part of the family business — a school with an outstanding reputation, founded by my grandfather in 1951 — where I get to work alongside my father, uncle and husband.




How do you combine family and job?

Ours is a proper family business as my husband has started to take over from my father as Manager of the school. We have two daughters (1 ½ and 4 years old) and I’m able to work part time at the moment. I have my mother and day care facilities to help out with childcare, and for the time being my father still works full time, so I have time for both a family life and a career.

What would you like to be doing ten years from now?

I hope by then the transfer will be completed: My father will be enjoying his retirement and spending time with his grandchildren, while my husband and I are looking after the school. I hope to tackle demographic changes and to be on top of all the new findings and developments in the field of chemistry.

How do you keep up with latest developments in the filed?

One way we keep up with what’s happening is the “Stuttgarter Chemietage“, the Stuttgart Days of Chemistry, that we organise. This year they are taking place for the 15th time, as usual in cooperation with the universities of Stuttgart and Hohenheim. New trends and topics are introduced and presented by high-ranking scientists, including Nobel laureates such as J.-M. Lehn, P.J. Crutzen or H. Michel.


What do you do in your spare time?

What’s “spare” time? My time is spent with my daughters. Before I had children I used to travel a lot and I loved all kinds of sports, such as rowing, running, and horseback riding.

Now, I meet a lot of families with smaller children — which is a great way to network — I arrange play dates and family outings, do all the games and arts and crafts common to this age group, and generally watch my daughters discover and explore the world.


What advice would you give other women thinking of embarking on a scientific career?

Don’t be intimidated by any challenge or responsibility ahead of you! An air of authority, confidence, and the solutions to most problems will come to you as you go.

Combining career and family life will always be challenging — probably even more so for women than for their male colleagues. However, if you take an interest in your work and have received a good training, you will find a suitable position. We’re lucky that in Germany women are not regarded as second-rate employees; if you do your job well, you will get credit for it. Although there’s still room for improvement, women can find support for raising their children while working on their career as well. As an example, students graduating from our school are sought after by many companies, including Roche and the Federal Armed Forces — regardless of their sex.

Thank you very much for this interview!




ChemistryViews.org Interview Women in Chemistry
Ulrike Flad
studied agricultural biology at the University Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany, and received her PhD in 2004 from there. She is the Deputy Headteacher at the Institut Dr. Flad, Stuttgart, Germany.



► see all Women in Chemistry Interviews

Also of interest:

European Women in Chemistry
Published: 11 November 2010
ISBN: 978-3-527-32956-4
Author: Jan Apotheker, Livia Simon Sarkadi

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