Steffen Schulz was completing his PhD in medical neuroscience when he realised he needed more job security than academia could offer. Now, he works as a drug safety manager in his native Berlin.
How did you get into biology?
Originally I was interested in the origin and the development and evolution of life. Then I shifted to questions like ‘why do animals and humans behave the way they do?’
What did you study at university?
I worked on the electrophysiological recordings of rat brains during my PhD. Before that I did a general diploma — in Germany you have a diploma which works like a Master’s plus a bachelor’s in one course — in neurobiology.
So you didn’t find out the origin of life?
Actually not, no!
What do you like about Berlin?
My part of town is suburban and the kindergarten is just around the corner, which is easy. But when I go downtown it’s completely different. There’s so many quarters that everyone can find their place here, I think.
How did you meet your wife?
I’m a really keen cyclist, and my wife is actually a commissaire — a referee for cycling. We met at a party, and I thought that was really cool, so I asked if I could tag along. Now we both work as commissaires in cycling races and competitions.
What’s your family life like?
The twins — I had them with my wife just before I finished with my PhD — are almost four now. A boy and a girl. They were born three months after I started at my company so I took two months off to support my wife and spend time with them.
How did that work out with your new role?
They were OK with it. The law in Germany means that new parents can share 14 months of leave between them. So I took two months, my wife had nine with the kids, and we didn’t take the rest — both of us felt some pressure to get back to work. But overall the system was great for us.
Do those laws apply to academia?
They do. But in academia there’s a lot of pressure to always be productive and in a certain way you are your own boss. That would have been a lot more risky for me, in terms of career development.
Do you still use your biology?
I don’t use my biology really at work. What’s more important is the way of thinking — to think scientifically, to evaluate and incorporate all of the moving parts. That’s what I think qualified me for this job, and that’s what’s important.
For more of this interview, please see here.