Dream job in the wake of the crisis

Emelie Fritz’ postgraduate appointment in Germany got off to something of a rocky start. Seven years later, however, she is now “Frau Doktor Fritz” and feels at home there.

When the financial crisis hit the world in 2008, many jobs were lost. The chemical industry was one of many impacted by the crisis. At the time, Fritz had just received her Master’s degree in chemistry and entrepreneurship from the University of Nottingham in England.

“You can’t escape changes in the global economy,” she says with a wry grin. “I moved back to Sweden and actually managed to find a consulting job in the chemical industry, but after some time we consultants were told that our positions were going to be terminated.”

Although the job market was difficult, to say the least, Fritz had not considered pursuing postgraduate studies until an advertisement posted by the Swedish Public Employment Service for an EU project caught her attention. The project combined pharmaceutical companies of all sizes with academic institutions. Fritz applied for and won the position, and speaking only a few words of German, she threw herself into her new life as a doctoral student in Germany at the TU Dortmund University in April 2009.

“My first impression of the student dormitory I was going to live in wasn’t all that encouraging. I greeted a gruff German lady who worked there in English and she barked back at me: ‘You’re in Germany now, and here we speak German, I’ll have you know!’”

By taking a basic course in German, holding lab courses for students and getting acquainted with some of her German chemist colleagues who “adopted” her, Fritz soon started to feel at home, however. Her thesis focused on analysing polymers that bind specific substances, known as “plastic antibodies”, to investigate how they could be used to purify pharmaceuticals.

“Things are a little bit different in Germany than in Sweden. Postgraduate study programmes usually run for three, instead of four and a half years, and you don’t take courses to the same degree as you do in Sweden.”

Fritz was born and raised on Sweden’s west coast. She took an interest in the natural sciences because she felt that they gave her the ability to understand and explain interrelations in everyday life, and she completed her undergraduate studies in chemistry at the University of Gothenburg (GU).

“Studying at the University of Gothenburg, I realised early on that I wanted to use my knowledge of chemistry for product development, that is, to produce things that are useful in day-to-day living.”

While working as a doctoral student in Dortmund, Fritz began looking for job opportunities as a product developer in the chemical industry in Germany. She heard from a number of sources that 3M was a company that could fit with her interests. 3M had a large facility in Düsseldorf, 70 kilometres from Dortmund, and Fritz applied for a position there.

“I was given the job in the autumn of 2013 on the condition that I complete my thesis. So, the final year of my postgraduate studies was very stressful, since I was working and writing my thesis at the same time, but in February 2015 I became ‘Frau Doktor Fritz’, as they say here. They like their titles in Germany.”

Presently, Fritz works as a product developer at 3M. Her work gives her the opportunity to combine her chemistry expertise with her knowledge of management and entrepreneurship. She now works to develop tape for industrial applications that is custom-made and developed specifically for use in different products, such as in the automotive industry and in electronic goods.

“First, we get a request specifying a particular product and the requirements it must meet. We then start on a small scale, hold a dialogue with the research, marketing and process departments, and step-by-step produce a product that we then test in the field and receive feedback on. My work varies greatly and I work with many different departments.”

Working for a big international company has a number of advantages. Among others, Fritz has the opportunity to spend 15 per cent of her time working on her own ideas and projects together with other departments. The company’s near-global presence also gives her the chance to try working in different locations.

“Work-wise, I’m very happy where I am. This is exactly what I want to use my chemistry skills for. Nowadays I also view Germany as my home base and, in the long term, I’d like to try working in another country, perhaps in the US or somewhere in Asia. But my parents probably won’t like hearing that,” she says and laughs.

Emelie Fritz

Age: 31
Lives in: Düsseldorf, Germany
Family: Parents in Sweden, one sister living in London
Occupation: PhD in Chemistry, Product Developer at 3M
Hobbies: “Travel, skiing and running. I plan on running a half marathon in London in October to support women’s rights.”
Happiest when: “Sailing off Sweden’s west coast on a warm summer’s day.”