Dr.-Ing. Jan Biermann

Nationality: German
City, Country: Munich/Germany
Study Program/Degree: Mechanical Engineering Theory (D.Eng.), Mechanical Engineering (D. Eng.)
Year of Graduation: Engineering Graduate: 2005, Doctor of Engineering: 2012
Employer & Position: BMW Group, Development Specialist (Acoustics and Vibrations)

Can you tell us about an unforgettable experience that you had during your time at the TUHH?
For sure, the biggest and best personal experience that I had was certainly my year at the University of Waterloo in Canada, which I was able to do thanks to the TUHH exchange program. But I’ll also never forget studying for my very first exam at the TU (Maths 1). Until then, I always got by listening to the teacher and, by doing so, I somehow understood and retained information. At the TU I realized that this would no longer work and I had to learn how to learn. At first this was hard, but in hindsight it was a great personal experience.

Which skills do you use that you learned during your studies?
Put simply, I would say the way I learned to think like an engineer. During your studies, you think that the set-in-stone curriculum is important. But the most important thing, and the thing that my studies have helped me most with is the skill of being able to quickly familiarize yourself to work with new and very complex matters and to use an ‘engineer‘s approach’ when it comes to problem solving. To some extent, this approach differs enormously from other disciplines.

What is the best thing about your job?
On the one hand, I am working on a great and emotionalizing product. That helps to motivate me. On the other hand, I’m employed in a large and very international company. This has its disadvantages too, but the complexity of the organization, the processes and ultimately the technical aspect of the resulting products mean that every day you really do learn something new and understand more. In fact, no day is like any other and you have endless opportunities to use your skills and develop them. That is exciting.

What is a typical day at work like for you and what skills do you need for it?
You actually have to deal with ‘x’ number of different projects at the same time, which are all at different stages of the development process and therefore call for different tasks. That means that one day you might be working at the test station and analyzing measurement data. This can be an analysis of competitor vehicles, or you might be performing basic tests in order to understand basic physical relationships. On the same day, you might be thinking about simulation methods or interpreting simulation data from vehicle projects at a very early development stage. You are always preparing presentations, and presenting these at various meetings in different fields.
This requires high levels of multitasking skills and quick adaptability. On a daily basis, you have to work on improving your own specialist level, but also on understanding things more generally. This is because the final product is the result of a lengthy struggle to find the best solution, which is normally a compromise of a variety of conflicting specifications and aspects: technical, economic and legislative. You always have to have the ‘big picture’ in mind, and that can only happen with perseverance and by using powers of persuasion.

I would love to exchange a day with …
Angela Merkel

What would you ask an omniscient researcher from the future?
If evolution will manage to create the ‘second-generation human’, who can inherently deal with things mindfully, without egotistical and destructive drives, and use these skills to benefit their physical livelihood, as well as their social circle.

If you were President of the TUHH…
… I would encourage a critical reconsideration of the curricula. I was able to experience both the German system and its North American counterpart. Both are different and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. But in my view, neither are the complete package. I would try to combine the best of both worlds.

Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Daum

Nationality: German
City, Country: Silicon Valley, USA
Study Program/Degree: Physics at the University of Hamburg, followed by a doctoral dissertation on semiconductor technology at the TUHH / Dr.-Ing.
Year of Graduation: 1992, Dr.-Ing.
Employer & Position: TOMA Biosystems Inc., CEO

What motivated you to study at the TUHH, to study the subject that you chose and to choose your profession?
I had studied physics at the University of Hamburg and a doctorate at the TUHH gave me more time to look for something interesting. I also thought that an engineering degree would prove to be more practical. Back then the TUHH was in the process of being established and I found that great. You could make a difference.

What was for you an unforgettable experience during your time at the TUHH?
Helping to shape a new university. One special experience, given that computer technology back then was not as highly developed as it is today and that I was able to with the acquisition of books for the university library. You could still inadvertently hit the “format disk” button. The hard disk was then erased and we could start again from scratch. Truly embarrassing!

What could distract you at any time from learning?
Designing and developing something at the new university.

What do you use in your career that you studied at the TUHH?
Organizational structure at a university. Thinking logically. Thinking critically. Convincing people. All of these have served me well as an entrepreneur and an executive. Over the years I have founded several medical and biotech companies or helped
to shape them as a CEO. I came to the U.S. 15 years ago as a result of the sale of one of my companies. I am fascinated by how the Americans  develop companies. The basis is a good new idea around which you start by setting up a “virtual” company and using the shares in the company to fund it, thereby making the company “real.” In Boston the MIT founds around 300 companies a year, which is nearly a new company every day! More than 96 percent of them fail, but in America that is part of the deal. Failing to give it a try is the real failure, not the company going belly-up. I now live in Silicon Valley and am running my eighth biomedical company. In terms of the financial outcome the result has been three companies were good to very good, two failed, and two were OK.

What is the greatest thing about your job?
Having a free hand in company organization. Collaborating with people who aim to create something out of the ordinary. Working at the cutting edge of translational medicine. Independence.

What does your typical working day look like and which competences do you need for it?
It starts at 7 a.m. and I go home at 6 p.m. During the working day there are many meetings, phone calls, decisions to be made – often in the evening and on the weekend too.

I would love to exchange a day with …
… an engineer with a company that makes children’s toys.

What would you ask an omniscient researcher from the future?
Has the increasing medical knowledge we have gained really made us live longer and made us happy, or has it merely created more difficulties?

What was your favorite meal at the mensa back then?
Spaghetti and tomato sauce.

If you were President of the TUHH…
… I would promote and sponsor risk taking and accepting failure.

Dr. Paola Vega-Castillo

Nationality: Costa Rican
City, Country: Cartago, Costa Rica
Study Program/Degree: PhD in microelectronics, master’s in microelectronics and microsystems
Year of Graduation: 2006
Employer & Position: Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, Vice- President Research

Dr. Vega-Castillo, what motivated you to study at the TUHH, to study the subject that you chose and to choose your profession?
I am an electrical engineer. I chose this profession because I wanted to learn a lot about physics and mathematics and would then also have good job prospects in Costa Rica. A former TUHH professor, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Otto Lange, visited the university where I was studying and told me about the international master’s program at the TUHH. I then applied to the DAAD for a scholarship.

What was for you an unforgettable experience during your time at the TUHH?
It was when I received from the manufacturer the first integrated circuit I had designed myself. To hold it in my hand after all the long, hard work at the computer was a marvelous experience.

What could distract you at any time from learning?
Nothing really. I am always and constantly learning from many other subject areas. I am interested, for instance, in what is going on in the universe. That is why I regularly read and look at what scientists discover about it and what theories they come up with nowadays. The same goes for the micro- and the nano-cosmos, which has a direct bearing on my own subject.

What do you use in your career that you studied at the TUHH?
A great deal. I have to work with scientists from many different disciplines. To do so, the combination of microelectronics and microsystems technology and other areas of science is most advantageous.

What is the greatest thing about your job?
Seeing how scientists’ new ideas take shape and go on to become reality. I find it exciting how technology and solutions are deployed in Costa Rica, for example to solve problems and tasks.

What does your typical working day look like and which competences do you need for it?
I normally hold many discussions with scientific personnel to devise new ideas and projects or to find out how projects are progressing and if need be to take them forward with thought-provoking ideas. We must plan and implement strategies, evaluate projects and ideas. On the other hand I must represent my university in dealings with the government, the different industry and university bodies and, finally, at public events. My university is a state institution. In addition to my subject-related competences I need a great deal of patience, stamina, leadership qualities, inspiration, willingness to work and enthusiasm. What is most important for me, however, is to start the day with delight und optimism.

I would love to exchange a day with …
… a highly talented pianist or opera singer.

What would you ask an omniscient researcher from the future?
What is the overall equation that explains the behavior of the universe?

What was your favorite meal at the mensa back then?
Fish with jacket potatoes – and cheesecake, especially because we don’t have any real cheesecake here. At open-air events I have always enjoyed German sausages – and I still do!

If you were President of the TUHH…
… I would try to create more temporary posts for visiting professors and scientists at the TUHH in order to strengthen international relations and academic exchange with TUHH alumni.