This year, the mentoring program of the GDCh (German Chemical Society), CheMento, has started its third round. Dr. Julia Tyrach and Dr. Markus Haider participated as a mentee and mentor in the second round of the program. They share with ChemViews Magazine their experiences and lessons learned.
Why and how did you decide to participate?
Markus Haider: First of all, because I was curious. Second, because I then thought, if it happens to be a good team – the mentee and the mentor – its outcome can only be a win-win situation. Last but not least because I am interested in networking.
Julia Tyrach: A friend of mine, Waltraud (thank you again), told me about CheMento and motivated me to apply. I was about to finish my Ph.D. and was a little bit worried about the start of my professional life in industry and the various options ahead of me. I was hoping to get some input and additional information to figure out the best way to start my career and to find the best job for me.
What was your first conversation like? Did you meet in person or via phone?
Julia Tyrach: As Markus, my mentor, couldn’t attend the first official CheMento meeting, the „Auftaktveranstaltung“, our first contact was via phone. I was quite nervous and stumbled a lot in the beginning. However, we were already planning our first meeting and developed some topics to work on. Markus was participating for the second time in the CheMento program. He was well prepared.
Markus Haider: A certain degree of openness on both sides is amenable to a positive flow in the mentoring process. In our cases, the “chemistry was right” from the start, that is, the required degree of openness, sympathy, and empathy was present.
How did you organize your cooperation?
Markus Haider: The first meetings were held at my company. At these meetings, we defined how often we intended to meet, and what the targets and scope of the cooperation were supposed to be. The targets strongly reflected the expectations of the mentee.
In total, we met five times. In-between we had an e-mail exchange and phone calls.
Julia Tyrach: The CheMento program was already very well organized and we got a lot of helpful information from the GDCh. We met twice during the official CheMento meetings – „Halbzeitreflexion“ and the „Abschlussveranstaltung“. Additionally, we met three times at Markus’ company and twice at my university.
How did you decide what to discuss and which goals to set?
Julia Tyrach: Both of us started new topics of discussion, but mostly I had a lot of questions and uncertainties that I wanted to talk about. I started to apply for jobs while in the CheMento program and also visited some application trainings. I tried to prepare some questions for each meeting, but mainly we talked about the latest developments.
What did you like best?
Julia Tyrach: I enjoyed Markus’ visits at my University the most; he even attended my Ph.D. defense, which made me very proud. I especially appreciated his honest and mostly positive feedback, his open nature, and the time he took to support and motivate me.
Markus Haider: The visit of each of my mentees at my company was done as “shadowing”. I liked this mostly because this way my mentees gained a good, particularly real insight into what a typical day in the chemical industry looks like and for me it was interesting to learn about the mentee’s ideas and opinions. During these visits, each of the mentees was given the opportunity to present her or his research work. This was rewarding for both, I think, the mentee as well as the audience.
In addition, I liked the interim meetings very much – the so-called Halbzeitreflexion. They were held at the GDCh office in Frankfurt, were well organized and structured, and led to good discussions.
What was your biggest challenge?
Julia Tyrach: My biggest challenge was to figure out my personal strengths and weaknesses and to be honest with myself. In the beginning, I also had trouble asking Markus the questions that I had, as I had the feeling that he would have more important things to do. He spent a lot of his leisure time with me. I was most surprised that he told me that he also values my input.
What have you gained from the experience?
Markus Haider: Primarily to again learn how to pay good attention, to actively listen, and to understand what drives candidates at the interface between their academic training and their first professional step. And what their expectations and challenges are.
Julia Tyrach: From the whole CheMento program I have gained a lot of self-confidence, experience, and some good friends. The CheMento program has helped me to figure out my strengths and weaknesses and some general goals for my future career. This was very important for me in order to figure out which branches of industry and companies I wanted to work for.
I was also able to visit Markus’ company and was very pleased to see his friendly colleagues and working atmosphere. This gave me a better idea of what working in industry is like, as I have only known the academic environment of a university, so far. In general, I had a more positive and relaxed attitude for the upcoming applications and the start of my first job.
What recommendations do you have for readers interested in CheMento or a similar mentoring project?
Julia Tyrach: Just apply! I am convinced that everybody can contribute positively and benefit from the program, either as a mentor or as a mentee.
Markus Haider: Yes, try it. It is a very good experience. By mentoring you help young candidates, enlarge your own boundary of thinking, as well as your professional network.
Tell us a bit about how your career has developed.
Markus Haider: Being in my 20th year at the same company, my career has developed quite a lot: starting as a lab manager, switching to corporate development, “re-starting” as a plant manager, developing into a production manager and then being a global supply-chain manager today. From my point of view, this is a very steady one.
Julia Tyrach: I am very happy to have started my job in an engineering office not even one month after my Ph.D. defense. The company specializes in the sales, consulting, and marketing of physical testing equipment. I especially enjoy the rich variety of tasks and the diverse people, devices, and issues I get to be in contact with. We consult with companies from different fields of industry – pharma, chemistry, automotive, etc. – and have a huge range of testing equipment, from a simple balance to more complex instruments like an energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence analyzer.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
Markus Haider: I enjoy doing something new, step by step, and based on the expertise gained before. It may sound conceited which it absolutely is not meant to be, but this stepwise continued widening of my scope and my comfort zone is what I appreciate a lot.
I also like getting to know a lot of new people or colleagues – increasing my network, however, on a solid ground – compared to, for example, merely creating contacts at Linked-In ;-).
Julia Tyrach: As we are a very small company – only five people in total in Germany – and my boss has a positive and open attitude, we have a very good working atmosphere. We are working as a team and supporting each other, which is very important to me. Additionally, my work already has had a lot of impact and my ideas and suggestions for improvement are valued by my colleagues and my boss. I am already allowed to work quite independently and organize projects on my own. My boss values my knowledge as a chemist, but I also gain a lot of new knowledge, as I am working in a different field of experience. I also enjoy the contact with my customers in Germany and business partners all over the world.
So can you imagine being a mentor yourself at some time?
Julia Tyrach: First I would like to thank Markus for being a great mentor and for supporting me! The organization of the GDCh CheMento committee did a great job and I enjoyed the contact with the other mentors and mentees. I hope we stay in contact. And yes, I am looking forward to being a mentor in the next CheMento program.
Thank you for the interview.
CheMento is looking for experienced chemists who want to support young chemists. Check out www.gdch.de/mentoring
CheMento is offered by the GDCh in Germany but you may find similar mentoring programs offered by your national chemical society.
Julia Tyrach studied chemistry at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and received her Ph.D. there in 2016. Since 2017, she has been a Product Manager at ib-walther, rycobel group, Uffenheim, Germany.
Markus Haider studied chemistry at the LMU Munich, Germany. He gained his Ph.D. from the University of Salzburg, Austria. After a postdoctoral position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA, in Mario Molina’s group as a Feodor Lynen fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he started as an Analytical Laboratory Manager at WACKER Chemie, Burghausen, Germany. Currently, he is the Global Supply-Chain Manager (SCM) of the business unit Performance Silicones.