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About this episode
#11 — Petra is a dedicated high flyer that simply loves her work (and her music, for which there is little she cannot play to concert level!). We chat about how she was given very little PhD supervision but encouraged to simply explore.
We also discuss her time in the USA before returning to Germany where she has become a Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry.
Not only high flying at work, Petra also has a head for heights that she reveals as we talk about raising and balancing family life, her hobbies which include climbing and yes…music! Watch/listen to this ‘classical’ podcast.
Please note that this is a Machine Transcription and may not be 100% accurate.
Petra Schwille (00:00:08):
Hi. Nice to meet you.
Peter O’Toole (00:00:09):
Yeah, I was, talking of meeting, I remember my first time of meeting you, which was back in 2001. And actually I was talking to Ricardo Henriquez recently and I was in email contact with Claudia Lucas and we were all at the same course. So actually we were students of, an EMBO course at EMBL Heidelberg for advanced, light microscopy imaging at the time. And you were one of the main chief, you were one of the guests invited big name speakers. And that was back in 2001, if you remember the event,
Petra Schwille (00:00:47):
Well, yes, I, I pretty much remember the event. I always enjoyed this weeks. It would usually be weeks that we spent at the EMBL and in this little booths and there’s always a really good equipment.
Peter O’Toole (00:01:03):
Well, it’s just good equipment. It was great. Great inspiring speakers. So you are like inspiring speakers talking about FCS and I’d never come across fluorescence correlation spectroscopy at the time. I think also there was Stefen Hell Ernst Stelzer a whole just so many leading microscopists. Mostly male may I say when I look back at it, but, I, the great thing is not only did you give the lecture, you also, in said those small booths. You were in there hands-on I, it was two photon FCS.
Petra Schwille (00:01:47):
Yeah. Could be long ago. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (00:01:50):
I mean, GFP and that’s where I, that’s where I learned from you, actually that GFP blinks can be quite annoying at times.
Petra Schwille (00:01:57):
It still blinks
Peter O’Toole (00:02:00):
A blinking nuisance. So may say when he does do that, that’s correct. So where, where did you start your career?
Petra Schwille (00:02:07):
I started my well, the, the real scientific career. I started in greeting and at the max Planck Institute for biophysical chemistry. Manfred Eigen at that time already close to retirement and Nobel Price winner who started very late in his scientific work, a new technology in every single molecule, for florescence spectroscopy. And that was at that time when I applied with him, I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to do theoretical evolution and he basically told me, no, no, that’s not what I want to do now for the last couple of years I would rather do something, you know, real mythological. And I, he guided me around for his labs and I fell in love immediately with the setup and in the lab and everything. So I, I have that a very good memory to these times of my PhD.
Peter O’Toole (00:03:03):
So what, what was your, what was your degree in to start with Physics, I was a physicists evolution from that?
Petra Schwille (00:03:13):
Yeah, you know, the, the, the, the, the point is that that really, I always went and since I did, I can think back. I always wondered about what life is I, that that was my big, it’s still my big question. What is it? What is that thing? Right. So what, why is it different from a stone or the sun or whatever the cloud fire, what is different? And I deliberately did not study biology. Also. I was very fascinated by living systems because you had to memorize so much and I really never liked memorizing. I, I rather, you know, I have a, I think I have a very small brain. I can, you know, I can compute very fast, but I cannot store anything. So I decided not to study biology because I just didn’t want to learn all that stuff. And physics was just right, because maths, what I like maths all the time. And I found that physics, I mean, you can do everything with physics. You become even a chancellor with physics. So that was a great subject, but I didn’t like to study that to say, yeah, at that time it was very, very thoughtful as a student. It was taught in a, in an obnoxious way, in the nineties, in Germany, you know, you, you were basically watching the guy writing formulas at a Blackboard that was lectures in physics when I was studying, that has changed quite a bit.
Peter O’Toole (00:04:38):
That sounds like. So my organic chemistry teaching, yeah.
Petra Schwille (00:04:41):
Chemistry was not much better. I mean, chemistry, at least there were the experiments that, you know, make a lot of smoke and noise. But so, so I really didn’t like the studying much, but when I, when I ended up the lab first time, I really loved it. I had to the bone, I’m an experimental person. I have to say also, I always trend of being a big theoretical physicist, but that did not work out.
Peter O’Toole (00:05:06):
So here’s an interesting question of how much time do you now spend in the lab, zero?
Petra Schwille (00:05:12):
I don’t go to the Lab. I mean, of course I’d go through the lab and talk with my people, but I haven’t touched an instrument in the last 20 years.
Peter O’Toole (00:05:21):
I think that certainly for younger people listening, watching this at the moment, it’s quite hard to get your head round that you love being in the lab so much. And yet as your career progresses, you find yourself less and less in the lab, but still loving your work. Yep.
Petra Schwille (00:05:40):
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And I sometimes wonder myself how I can manage not to go to the lab anymore because you know, now, now I have all these really great instruments that are always turned off. I mean, all of these really cool techniques and AFM and ARF, and then we have the Cryo EM and it would be fantastic to do the work, but no, no, no anymore. And my students are actually glad that I don’t go and touch the instruments because I might make a mess of everything. But, you know, I I’m, I’m probably a bit different from any other scientists that I’m very easily you know, I, I need new stuff from time to time. If I, if I think I would still do the same as like 30 years ago, I would die because of, you know, boredom. I really need new tasks, new ideas, new concepts from once in a while.
Peter O’Toole (00:06:39):
Is that part of the success path that I think if you try and play the same field with the same crop year, one year that the crop dries up, it becomes the yield becomes, have to reinvent yourself.
Petra Schwille (00:06:51):
I think it depends a bit what kind of a personality you are. I mean, there are these people who are basically thinking about the same phenomenon for decades and at the end, they succeed and make something really big. And then there’s the other guys who just put on for so many things and, and rather do the you know, inspire others. I would think that I, I mean, I, at a time I was a real, real lead worm with you know for instance, microscopy and spectroscopy, and I really loved it and I was really good at it, but it’s okay. I’m not anymore. I think I could still build it in FCS, but it would take a bit longer than it did use this.
Peter O’Toole (00:07:34):
I, I can certainly use pretty much every instrument I’ve ever used, but now it’s only new instruments. It’s a software, it’s the software that changes makes for demand of you. Yeah.
Petra Schwille (00:07:44):
Yeah. But I mean, software has become much, much user-friendly, hasn’t it? I mean, if you, if your program now, I mean, if I see my, my kids programming, they have all these, you know, graphical programming tools. It’s really like you all, you only break things together and it’s not, you don’t have to write this, this really boring codes in a black and white screen.
Peter O’Toole (00:08:10):
That’s what my son actually loves. He’s is 19. And that’s all he does is code lots of it actually maths maths he’s. He finds maths more challenging and coding. He just finds in computing, just very, very simple to him. So he enjoys his challenge with maths, but putting the computer science with it as well. So I, I really struggled with all of that very much. I guess
Petra Schwille (00:08:37):
I would probably too if I, if I tried, but fortunately I haven’t, I just watch it from afar
Peter O’Toole (00:08:43):
When you went into the lab and there was change of direction. It wasn’t, it wasn’t evolution. First time with a microscope
Petra Schwille (00:08:54):
Time. I mean, I did some, you know, an experimental thesis in my diploma, but that was really, really low tech. I mean, that was ultrasound. And that, I mean, that was really very, it was okay, but it was very cheap lab stuff. And then what, what we got at the Max Planck in [inaudible], and that was really super cool. High-End devices, lasers, detectors, microscopes at that was a lot of fun. I like that a lot.
Peter O’Toole (00:09:23):
And so from that, where did you see your career at that moment in time? Where did you see your career going?
Petra Schwille (00:09:30):
Nowhere I had no idea. I like to, you know, this was really true. I mean, as a, as a girl in the nineties in science, I had, I mean, I, I did just, I like to say that the only thing I kind of knew intuitively is that I wanted to have a job without a boss. That was absolutely clear for me. So what kind of job that would be, was not clear, but a boss I never would like to have, I mean, the good thing about my PhD advisor and my post-doc advisor, they were all men hardly there. I mean, I, I, into my PhD advisor, I run into twice, three times a year, I got my money and from time to time, he wanted to know what I’m doing, but otherwise I was,
Peter O’Toole (00:10:27):
Yeah, it’s a lot of self motivation through on that, that, that level of contact is very low. My PhD supervisor was very hands-off. So I, I could always knock on his door.
Petra Schwille (00:10:45):
Yeah, I could knock knock at his door, he was just not in, half the year he was in the U S and when he was there, he was basically traveling the country lecturing to more important people. So I was good into my second year, as a PhD student that I met him and he didn’t know my name. So, I mean, I didn’t feel bad about that. I mean, I knew that when I, when I applied the same, it was clear Nobel prize winner in the upper six sixties. I mean, come on. I mean, you’re not expecting to get very tight tuition from this person.
Peter O’Toole (00:11:23):
And how much support was that within the lab group itself, then there must have been some help and direction within that.
Petra Schwille (00:11:29):
No, not really. I mean, we had, we were basically two PhD students who, who were very active. There was another buddy who basically started a bit earlier than I did, and he was, he had everything under control and he was a really good peer because I just watched him doing things and kind of mimicked him. And then we were really good, really good lab mates and, and, you know, did most things together. And there, we had a collaborating group, the [inaudible] in Stockholm really good. Post-docs and other PhD students who were a bit advanced in the technology we were doing and they trained us well. So we got our, training, you know, collaborators and people we knew. But not, you know, it was not one of these very clear, structured labs where you know exactly who your boss is and who you can go to, if you have a problem. That was pretty much, you know, self-made, self-made, project and careers. I had, there was another senior PhD student who, who was also very well organized and he, he brought the need of publication into the, into the lab. I can not care a bit what we would publish and not publish. So there was one PhD student who, who had a very clear idea that he wanted to publish, and we just followed his, his example. And, and at some point, u,u know, published our own stuff.
Peter O’Toole (00:13:01):
I’m just amazed at the lack of lack of getting
Petra Schwille (00:13:04):
Absolutely. But retrospectively, I wonder how i survived that’s really, you know, meandering and, you know, random walking through this whole scientific scene.
Peter O’Toole (00:13:17):
So how many hours a day were you putting in at that point? Can you recall?
Petra Schwille (00:13:21):
Oh, every day from, I dunno, nine to seven, eight at night. I must basically the whole day and the whole weekend. And it was okay. It was, I know we had, I mean, I had my, I had my leisure time. It was not that I’m was living in the lab, but it was really, you know, really long, at least in the last year, that was basically around the clock.
Peter O’Toole (00:13:47):
So thinking of leisure time, what was your number, one thing that you did outside of the lab at the time?
Petra Schwille (00:13:52):
And it was basically only music. I mean, I, I liked hiking. So I, we went out to the, you know, whatever that was woods, but music was number one.
Peter O’Toole (00:14:07):
Do I have to duck completely out of the way of this, this, this picture, cause that is at a lovely piano that you have every other instruments I can possibly, I can’t even name them all. I don’t have you got here.
Petra Schwille (00:14:24):
So, yeah. Well, so the ones that I played best is probably the viola, which is at the very left. That, that is my, I would say number one, instrument, and I started playing the violin, but I, at some point was too lazy to practice. And if you’re too lazy to practice a violinist and don’t, don’t tell this to the, you know, real Viola players, then you end up as a Viola. And then, I, it’s a kid. I learned the piano and the trumpet. I played the trumpet for very long. And, the, the French horn I played for some years in coaching and even in, you know, forestry, ensemble where all had these Pat fourth, horns, very cool things. And I, a couple of years ago, I learned the, the clarinet, because I had a problem with my neck and it was very hard for me to play a string instrument. So I played the clarinet and very recently because my daughter urged me to purchase a saxophone. So I purchased the saxophone and that’s also a lot of fun. And what else is there? Yeah, there’s a, you know, how do you call this accordion? I cannot really play it. I bet. If you can play the piano, then you can make your, you know, you can somehow accompany singles.
Peter O’Toole (00:15:43):
Now that’s firstly, a huge number of instruments, a piano in the background, but I only play two or three instruments to a very low standard. Now I’m looking at the quality of your instruments there. And I’m assuming this is to a very high standard.
Petra Schwille (00:16:02):
Not really, no, no. I mean, I, I think I can play the Viola reasonably well so that I don’t, I don’t hurt in a, in a, in a string quartet, but it’s not that I would call myself you know, any anyhow professional or expert.
Peter O’Toole (00:16:21):
Yeah. I’m just looking at your lovely piano there as well. I think you’re being modest
Petra Schwille (00:16:25):
Really nice one. Yeah. Yeah. There was actually a, an, an aunt died, three years ago and I inherited some money and I didn’t know what to do with the money. And then I bought the grand piano and that does best, the best thing to do with my money. I have to say it’s so much fun. It’s so it’s so much more fun than a peer than a normal piano. It’s it’s a completely different instrument.
Peter O’Toole (00:16:49):
Oh, I haven’t got space for it, nor do I have the skill for it.
Petra Schwille (00:16:55):
Oh, it’s a possibility to practice. You know, you can a piano, you can actually start very late.
Peter O’Toole (00:17:01):
I’m looking forward to getting older, actually starting back again. But I think with children and everything else, I do that. There’s just not enough time at the moment but you obviously put a lot of time into your music as well.
Petra Schwille (00:17:14):
Actually, the funny thing that’s tiny and gritting, and I was actually singing most of the time in choirs and I played the Viola, but at the violin piano and getting in, I played the violin. And, and I was singing in a, in a very good choir and that was my evening entertainment. So to speak,
Peter O’Toole (00:17:31):
I I’m, I’m still in awe of the sheer number of instruments. And I’ve always argued that artists never make good scientists and scientists never make good artists.
Petra Schwille (00:17:41):
No, no. I mean, I graphical arts. I suck. I totally, I also admire, I, I’m also not a big art. You understand that if I go in a museum, doesn’t talk to me. I bet the ear that is different. Yeah. I think maybe it’s a different art, isn’t it?
Peter O’Toole (00:17:59):
There’s a lot of scientists who do music, but cannot. How do we get away as microscopists, without being able to draw it? Think about microscopy many years ago, you had to hand draw it. I would argue there were never scientists. They were just good artists, the media to, to fighting, to draw, not necessarily really understanding what they’re drawing.
Petra Schwille (00:18:18):
That’s actually, that’s actually true. I mean, I, I I think I’m also, I would probably not be such a good microscopist. I’m more a spectroscopist. I mean, I, microscopy is more fun than spectroscopy because you have these tiny images, but really I’m a, I’m a single molecule spectroscopy. That’s, that’s really what I am. Yeah. You don’t have to draw much there.
Peter O’Toole (00:18:39):
I, I had a question earlier actually for later on, I’ll ask it now, because obviously you started out as a physicist. You’re now very much all your impact or your direction is in the world of biological studies. I guess optimally a biophysicist.
Petra Schwille (00:18:53):
Yeah. Yeah. I, I would say I’m definitely biophysicist
Peter O’Toole (00:18:56):
So are you a better biologist, a better physicist or a biophysicist that sits somewhere between them?
Petra Schwille (00:19:03):
I think, I mean, if you had to parent categorize, I actually am probably in the most in the best sense, I’m a physical chemist. That’s really what resonates with me. My brain operates as a, as a physical chemist biology. I really suck. I have to say I’m interested in biology, but you know, it’s too much information.
Peter O’Toole (00:19:27):
She actually had three, a three way questioning, what would you class yourself as a biologist physicist or chemist with three question marks after it as well? How do I credit? I should’ve got the chemistry in there quicker.
Petra Schwille (00:19:36):
Yeah. Yeah. I, if I had to choose between chemistry and physics, I still would go for the physics side because also chemistry, you have to memorize a lot, but in physics, definitely physical chemistry or chemical physics.
Peter O’Toole (00:19:50):
So, so after your after your time there, you then went over to Cornell, is that correct?
Petra Schwille (00:19:56):
Yes. Yeah. That was a big step. I, that was really also, you know, personality wise, a big step because at that time Germany was still very conservative and not, you cannot even compare it with Germany, the German research as it is now when every, every single professor has been in, you know, US or UK at that time, it was relatively conservative if the habitations and all that. So it was really good for me to go abroad for these two years. And besides it was a fantastic lab and a fantastic colleagues. Cornell is a, is it a spectacular campus? Probably the nicest campus on earth. I haven’t seen, I have seen many and I haven’t seen such a nice one with, you know, rivers, gorges on the campus as a whole thing, overlooking a Lake. I mean, that’s even better than, you know, San Diego. So,
Peter O’Toole (00:20:56):
So how was it, the one thing is working life is obviously very different there. The culture at that point, as you indicated, was very different to what it was in Germany back then, how do you think the two compare now?
Petra Schwille (00:21:11):
I would say that’s still I mean, the U S it was basically work was life. I mean, there was no, you know, holiday or weekend culture. That’s not existing. And that is still the same, I would say. I mean, I, if you see how many holiday hours people get in, or holiday days people get in Germany and, and take it for granted and if right. And, and you know, their life and in the U S holiday, what is that like, get a couple of days, but you better not take them. Right. It’s really different still, but, but in terms of science in the lab and the hierarchy where you basically your terms with your professor. So I think that that has, you know, it has grown similar. We do not have the, you know, full time director or professor anymore. Well, there are some, but it’s not, it’s, it’s not the norm. I would say, it’s still, you know, you have your buddies and you have your, the lab life, the only different that you have much more space in Germany, which is good in Corona times. The labs are much bigger. You have a much bigger desk and that, but besides that, it’s very similar.
Peter O’Toole (00:22:29):
So what about on a personal level though? You know, you’re, you’re, you’re very young. You go to you’re switching countries to carry on your research. That’s also has a lot of logistical and just, just must be some apprehension in doing that.
Petra Schwille (00:22:42):
Yeah. You know, I, it was, it was easy at that time. I mean, I, I didn’t have much, I mean, I, we, we, I, I haven’t, my now husband was already my boyfriend at the time. It was very clear he would not come with me because he had a job that was not transferable. And so I, I, I was, it was me. I was going on my own for two years. That was my stipend, lasted for two years. And it was clear to me that I actually wanted to go back to Germany after two years. Um, it was a relatively minor move. I mean, I still, I did this stupid thing and boxed, you know, plates and spoons and things like that, and shifted to the U S also you could, for the price of shipping you could have bought everything new, but you know, that, that is the mistake you do.
Peter O’Toole (00:23:36):
So it’s always a short burn, but I, I presume that was a big a big plus on the CV when coming back to Germany,
Petra Schwille (00:23:46):
Not, I’m not so sure. Of course there are people who are looking, did this person, which I think is completely ridiculous. It doesn’t mean anything. I mean, somebody can stay in one city, the whole career and be a fantastic scientists, and another one can move around and not gain much from it. What was good for me that, that, that I just had endless freedom and a super nice intro. And, and, and, and what was very important. And probably I should emphasis this because, the conservativeness of Germany also was in my brain, right. So I had absolutely no idea what I should, what I should prepare for it as a career. And I really liked to tell, I tell this episode, anecdote, everyone who wants to hear it, but it’s really telling at the very end of my PhD, when everything was already, you know, successful with clear that I did a PhD was really good.
Petra Schwille (00:24:44):
I went to my PhD advisor, Manfred Eigen and ask him, do you think I could become a professor? And then, you know, yeah. You know, it’s very hard and a very long way. And he was obviously not, he didn’t want to, you know, to, to make me, you know, expect too much from this. And only a couple of months later, it wasn’t only half a year or so. I, in the U S I started and had a lot of fun. And I asked the same question to my, to my American PI. And he just, of course, what else do you want to become? And that was different, right? So the very conservative, very, you know rather de-motivating attitude in, in Germany and the super, you know emphatic. And also, you know, how you call it supportive and optimistic, it was probably it’s, it’s optimistic way of doing science in the U S
Peter O’Toole (00:25:54):
So would you say that maybe that was the moment that you realized that you are going to succeed here? You are going to have,
Petra Schwille (00:26:01):
That was, there was a moment when I had thought that it could actually, but you know, when, when I even thought about it, I mean, even when I, when I planned my postdoc, I did not expect it to be a step towards a professorship. I just didn’t know what to do else. I didn’t want to go to industry because obviously it would have to have a boss there. So I decided, no, no, no. Let’s just keep doing science for the next couple of years and then see what comes of it.
Peter O’Toole (00:26:25):
All right. So that sounds very familiar. I was very similar. I, I did a PhD cause I enjoyed research. I did a post-doc, so I didn’t want to stop research. I wasn’t really thinking about the next step. I think today it’s very different. We, we, we almost drilled the PhDs and postdocs and thinking, what is their next career step? We have an obligation to make them think so don’t fall off
Peter O’Toole (00:26:44):
The end. But at the same time, we also have to let people enjoy their research and see if they have got a flare for it and not, not beat out of them. And it sounds that America really helped in that way. Oh yeah.
Petra Schwille (00:26:58):
I’m really grateful to that time and to my colleagues and my, my advisor and, and all, you know, all aspects that made that successful.
Peter O’Toole (00:27:07):
And about three years after coming back from there, you got your professorship, you were mega young to get to mega young, to get a professorship.
Petra Schwille (00:27:17):
Yeah, I think I was just right. And everybody who becomes older is actually too old because why should people not get a professorships with 35 34, your brain Is there your experience is there, so what else do you want a right time I think it was just the right time. And we should make it possible for people to become professors at that age. And that, that is still an exception. It’s just wrong.
Peter O’Toole (00:27:43):
Th th so few examples like that, that get there.
Petra Schwille (00:27:47):
I know. And that is, that is not good. That is, that is really bad.
Peter O’Toole (00:27:50):
There’s like a reluctance, or you always get a feeling that they have to do so many years of proven
Petra Schwille (00:27:59):
He or she is only 40 is still a junior researcher, 40 are not a junior researcher anymore. You’re just, you know, middle age researcher, you should be a professor already. Right. And not wait for it anymore. So I, I really think this is, I mean, and that that’s actually interestingly the same everywhere. Also, people are younger when they do their PhD in the UK or the master in the U S it’s just, it’s just a wrong thing. And it should not be like this,
Peter O’Toole (00:28:31):
That there were some in their thirties that still get their professorships and they are don’t, they usually really great people. And they’re not all work orientated.
Petra Schwille (00:28:41):
I mean, of course it depends a bit what kind of approach? I mean, the biologist usually tell me that you cannot do a PhD in three years. So I my, my, my, I actually was a pretty old you know, diploma student. So I did not speed up. I, it took me until I was when, when did I do my PhD? And my postdoc my diploma in 93, that I was 25 when I had my diploma. That’s just, okay, that’s not fast. And then I did my PhD in three years and that’s the fast part. Right. And then I did my post-doc only for two years. And after two years, I already, you know, had this, this amazing opportunity to become a, a research group leader. Umhat was really young, I have to say, but I also did do a lot in my, in these two years of post-doc. So I, I had a lot of papers already after the first year.
Peter O’Toole (00:29:42):
Yeah. Well, obviously, before you even, before I met you back in 2001, we were getting developed two photon the actual application of two photon FCS.
Petra Schwille (00:29:54):
That was a very productive time,
Peter O’Toole (00:29:57):
Which is pretty interesting to hear about starting a group it’s so young, that must also be daunting to, or maybe at a young age. You don’t think about it so much.
Petra Schwille (00:30:08):
I think you just don’t follow you so much. It’s okay. I got very nice and very good students and a postdoc who was very, very helpful. He was actually, you know, he was actually my PhD colleague and wanted to found a company and suggested me to become his, that he would become my post-doc and would be free for founding the company. And at the same time supervise one of my PhD students. It was just a good, you know, win-win situation.
Peter O’Toole (00:30:39):
And then I, I’m going to ask, because we talked a bit about your early life and with the music as a big theme in the background. The one thing I think, certainly from physics, the, the male female divide, there’s not as much representation biology, I think is really good. I think there’s quite a good representation in physics, maybe less so maybe because that’s a choice at a younger, but for whatever reason. But then I do think there was also difficulties about raising a family as well.
Petra Schwille (00:31:15):
Yeah, I guess that’s always, I mean, it was not, I had this big advantage that I was still young when I when I had my professorship. So I, you know, I, I was not a big family person. I never really, in the same way, I never really wanted to have a boss. I also didn’t ever want to have a husband. And I wasn’t very, I wasn’t very big in kids, so I did not really care much about kids. So that was not, you know, on my mind in a way that it prohibited my career somehow. So I only, when I had already everything in my hand, I know when I was a professor and nobody could do anything anymore, then I decided to have to give it a try and have some kids, actually one kid it’s totally wrong. If you should not have, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s, don’t copy me, but this was how it was. Right. So I wanted to have one kid because I was the one kid and it was just, just the right number. But then I somehow got attached to them to the process. It’s kind of a, you get a bit addicted to having kids when you have the first, then
Peter O’Toole (00:32:28):
So many jokes around that line. I’m not going to go there.
Petra Schwille (00:32:33):
No, that is a big advantage if you are, if you’re a professor, when you start having kids I mean, that’s another argument for trying to be, to make professors younger that, you know, you’re not dependent on anyone. Of course, you’re dependent on your husband, helping you and your, you know, childcare situation. Of course there needs to be some sort of a childcare. But, but it’s not, if you cannot come for one day, nobody can blame you. Right. So you’re just not coming.
Peter O’Toole (00:33:03):
Yeah. I think things are getting a lot better in that area. I think where we are at York York, I think he’s exceptionally good. Certainly in biology it’s I think very supportive, but there’s still areas that can improve across the board. I think, I guess that will change in time. Just be nice if it was a bit faster, if we could get there, you have three girls. Is that right? Yes. Yeah. So I’ve got three boys. I bet you, my life is a lot easier than yours. I don’t know. Is it dead easy?
Petra Schwille (00:33:37):
I mean, they are, they are, they’re just very good kids. And I was, you know, I w we were also very lucky that they were all healthy and they’re so far no problems besides of course school issues that you always have somehow. But I have to say that I was very, very lucky with childcare all along my career. I mean, in, in race centrists in Eastern Germany, and they had a really good childcare system where you did not, you know, of course there was, you know, after school there was hot or so there was a full for the whole day you had childcare. And also here in Munich I mean the biggest cities in Germany are really good. And my husband, you know, if your partner also matters obviously, so it was very clear that we do it together and that he does, you know, we have 50 50 share of the time that we, that we you know, invest for the, for the kids.
Petra Schwille (00:34:36):
And, and I mean, of course I mean, this is something that is absolutely clear. You do not have the same time for your science as if you would not have kids, regardless of childcare. It’s just, I mean, you need half of your brain for your family. This half of your brain is not there for research anymore. I, I mean, this is how it is. I mean, I I’m, I’m not in the same way, you know, a hundred percent science as a, as I was in a, as a, as a post-doc and this is impossible. How could that be?
Peter O’Toole (00:35:15):
But I bet you still live and breathe your subjects. I’ll just go. I, I, it was it was good that you said that your husband still matters. It was still important. I think, because I think a few sentences before that you said that you didn’t care for her husband. So I thought I was saying,
Petra Schwille (00:35:29):
No, no, no, no, no, no, not, not for a PA a partner and the husband is a different thing. So I was, I was very, very rigorously against marrying. That’s, I mean, not, not having a partner at all that, that of course, you know, you want a partner obviously, but, but no, I really disliked the concept of being married and that’s probably my generation that to be kind of aware that it can become very bad for your career if you’re married.
Peter O’Toole (00:36:03):
Oh, is that from a female perspective? Okay.
Petra Schwille (00:36:06):
Of course, of course.
Peter O’Toole (00:36:09):
Okay. So now
Petra Schwille (00:36:11):
Only from a female perspective as a male, why would it matter.
Peter O’Toole (00:36:16):
Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. Yeah. Gosh, how things are different. And how time to change? I think, I think again,
Petra Schwille (00:36:24):
Changed. I mean, this is not as easy as it was. I mean, I, I would say I’m, I’m fortunately I’m already you know, in a generation where women have kids, but I would say the generation before mine women, if they wanted to do real research the, the rate of women having kids is very low.
Peter O’Toole (00:36:48):
So, so what do you do with your children? How do you spend your time? I know it’s quite cool. Mine of a bit older, I think, than yours, minor 13, 16, and 19. Yeah. It’s been really good over that lockdown period because I was at least around more and I could show my face at lunch just every now and then I could find time to do something with them. Not as much as I should. I know. I, I love my work but still with them.
Petra Schwille (00:37:17):
So one, one really, really good thing is that all my kids are very musical. So they, they, they play the instruments much better than I do. So I, whenever I can, I play music with them, also hiking in the mountains, they like, so that I can also be with them.
Peter O’Toole (00:37:33):
I have a question. What style of music do they all, like,
Petra Schwille (00:37:36):
I think on music, classical music, we are, we are totally, you know, before 1900, probably before 1950, but definitely, definitely string quartets you know, chamber music. They all play in orchestra. They actually play in very good orchestra. I couldn’t play in these,
Peter O’Toole (00:37:56):
So they’re not into big rap music or anything like that. Yeah. You’re so lucky. You’re so lucky. I listen to the rap music. I have no clue. What’s interesting about it,
Petra Schwille (00:38:08):
Actually, that I have to say that this was a big investment of my time when the kids were small to, you know help them practice because a string instruments, you have to practice and very few like to do it. So I spent really hours, hours in my in the, in the two thousands when the kids were still small, to, to practice with them. And that was, that was no fun. That was just hard work. I mean, we basically fought all the time and, and, and yelled at each other and it was not nice, but now it was worth it.
Peter O’Toole (00:38:48):
Now, they yell at you as they’re teaching you if they’re better.
Petra Schwille (00:38:51):
No, they are very friendly. They just say, well, you’re only viola. Okay. If you do know they are there, they are relatively professional. I mean, in, in the worst case, they don’t play with me because I’m not good enough, but they don’t yell at me.
Peter O’Toole (00:39:06):
So you also said that you enjoy a lot of climbing. Yes. I quite like this picture because it looks like you’re sitting on my shoulder. Where are you in this picture? Obviously?
Petra Schwille (00:39:22):
Yeah, this is the good thing about one, one good thing about Munich is that it’s very close to the mountains. So, one hour you are in the middle of, of really cool, cool mountains. And these are the cabin, the mountains in, u, bit South of, at the border between, Germany and Austria. And they are fantastic because, u, u can be very, I mean, it’s, you can find places where there’s nobody. I mean, other places there’s a lot of people, but, u, it’s, it’s very easy to be, you know, out there and up, and it goes to 3000. So that’s two, 3000 is the, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a two-spirit set, but on the [inaudible] side, it’s two, seven or so. And that’s, that’s actually, that’s fine.
Peter O’Toole (00:40:06):
So this looks super chilled, nice walking, relaxing, and then we still have to get to more.
Petra Schwille (00:40:14):
Yeah. That’s still not. Yeah. I like to do them because you can do them on your own. You don’t have to have, I really liked climbing. I have to say I would, if I would have more time, I would rather to real climbing, you know, this too, but I don’t have the time and no, so far nobody who goes with him, my husband is very good you know, sportler, but he’s not, he he’s afraid of Heights. So climbing with not his, my oldest daughter is it’s already on my tracks. And the third, if she’s, you know, we have to do some, you know, obviously some training, but we can go most serious stuff, but you don’t need anyone. You just go, that’s a good thing.
Peter O’Toole (00:41:02):
So in that case, I guess the ropes are there already laid out
Petra Schwille (00:41:06):
That you know, still ropes in and then you just go and there are many of them you know, in, in the South here. And then the nicest guy in the Dolomites, these are actually here. This is my favorite place on earth here, the Dolomites. But that’s already a bit further away. So you have to try for four hours or so to get there.
Peter O’Toole (00:41:28):
It’s a nice way to relax. Yeah. But in winter, what’d you do at that skiing
Petra Schwille (00:41:34):
And that country skiing is yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So that, that, that is also the Dolomites actually that was a big country hike.
Peter O’Toole (00:41:48):
I’m envious. I agree with me, but it’s still limited in what you can do up there and it’s still a fair drive away. It’s probably as quick for me to get on an airplane and come over, probably if it’s to drive up to Scottish Highlands. Lovely.
Petra Schwille (00:42:08):
Yeah. I mean, you can do other things there. I actually, there’s good planning there, so I’ve never been there, but
Peter O’Toole (00:42:13):
Yeah, I really funny story. I actually went to Scotland celebrate, Oh gosh, 40th birthdays for myself and my wife, just the two of us left the children here with my parents. And we went up to the top of Ben Nevis, which is the highest points. And at the top of there, someone who worked from elected, this was in may to snow at the peak. There was hardly anyone up there cause it wasn’t during holidays. And this guy comes bounding up to me saying, hello. And he worked for molecular devices. It’s like, we then went to, another peak to look for ptarmigan Bird, which you only really get up in Scotland and were quite keen stated there’s no path to the top of this Hill. It there’s no track. It’s just, you’ve got to find your way. So you end up following a stream up to the top and on the way back down, there’s a dog Walker and his dog walk was Alan Stewart from Leica. This is unreal. How can this be there? I, in the middle of nowhere, no one finds it. And then he just happens to be staying in the same local village that he actually lives in. It was really cool, small world and microscopist are very well networked. We are everywhere. Obviously. Clearly I actually, I did also meet two other people on the same day when l wife was just incredulous. This is like, who are we going to meet today then? You know, within the middle of nowhere each time. And
Peter O’Toole (00:43:44):
It’s just coincidence. Definitely just coincidence. Okay. Back to your work life balance. It’s it sounds very full. There’s never a moment, I guess. You know, cause when you were at home, you playing your music, you were your children and enjoying it. So I guess you said a hundred mile per hour life style. It sounds
Petra Schwille (00:44:07):
Yes, it is. Yeah. I mean a colleague in income net basically once said to me that he was basically thinking that I was living two lives and I, I, it’s kind of, it feels a bit like this. I mean, of course you always have to, you know, you always feel you’re not doing the best possible job in either of them, but it’s okay. Rather a non-perfect, you know, job in two, fields then, perfect. And only one I would, I would miss something then. I mean, I, I, I have to say that now cause I don’t want to imply that my science is not top. Right. Of course it is. It’s the best science in the world, but you know, of course I, I would not, I would, I mean, I, there was a time in my life that I worked my off for, for science and this is not anymore the case.
Peter O’Toole (00:44:57):
Do you think it’d be possible to get into your position today without working your socks off in the early stages? I don’t think so. And so I, I, I would totally agree with you, but I think at that early stage of your career, it doesn’t feel like you’re working your socks off.
Petra Schwille (00:45:12):
Exactly. That that is only retrospectively that you see, Oh my God, I really, I really did work all the way through and I enjoyed it. I, it was fantastic. I mean, in, in the winter times in Connecticut because we were working in the basement, I was not seeing the daylight at all. I was basically in the morning I was going with my bike or skis or whatever I could to the, to the lab. And it was already, it was still dark. And then I was in the lab in the dark the whole day. And then when I went home, it was the, again, the daylight and I never suffered from it. It was fine.
Peter O’Toole (00:45:48):
Okay. Because you enjoyed your work on it.
Petra Schwille (00:45:51):
And I had nice people around me. I mean, that also met us. Of course. I mean, scientists are usually relatively nice people.
Peter O’Toole (00:45:58):
So I said everything so fast. And so it’s being, yeah, pretty easy going, you know, you put the effort in, put the time in obviously you got the creative mind, which is important to have the ideas to start with and then to be able to see them through. But at some point you must have had some difficulties or roadblocks to overcome.
Petra Schwille (00:46:16):
Yeah. I was probably very lucky in not having really big roadblocks. I have to say of course, I mean two years into my PhD, everything was going wrong. And I mean like, like a normal PhD, right. The first year, works kind of the second year. Nothing works, everything breaks down. And then the third year you basically digging up, get up pieces and, and try to assemble something. And that, that worked well. But you know, it’s also, you have to be lucky, it can go wrong.
Peter O’Toole (00:46:52):
That’s another thing is I think some of us do just get very lucky in that. Yeah.
Petra Schwille (00:46:57):
Yeah. I think if without luck probably cannot make it, you have to, I mean, you can, you can, you can you know, tend your luck and persuade yourself that you’re actually lucky. And that helps a lot. I’ve always been rather good at that. Stay optimistic, stay positive.
Peter O’Toole (00:47:20):
No, I think my former boss I’m now that position. So maybe I don’t. I do, I still sort of have a boss, but I’m now, it doesn’t matter. There’s a line be moved at least. Yeah.
Petra Schwille (00:47:30):
We’ll have a boss. Right. But it’s more like feeling a boss.
Peter O’Toole (00:47:34):
Yes. He always used to say that. I always, you say, look, I’ve just got lucky and he’d always go, well, you always create your own luck.
Petra Schwille (00:47:42):
Yeah. That’s definitely true. I mean, there’s a certain, a certain role to be lucky that you have to have, but then again also you have to be lucky it’s, you know?
Peter O’Toole (00:47:56):
Yeah. You must’ve heard the phrase, a cat has nine lives and I’ve also also thought that that the number of times I’ve been pushed off a cliff and landed on my feet is where I’ve got lucky. There’s been moments even during lockdown, some high pressure moments you think, Oh no, this is going really badly. And somehow, somehow you come out the other side and everything’s worked out somehow. And I’m not sure if that’s by luck or by design,
Petra Schwille (00:48:24):
It’s hard to disentangle. I would say,
Peter O’Toole (00:48:27):
No, I guess the big thing is at those critical times, you keep putting the timing and the effort in to that key point. And hopefully it increases your chances of landing on your feet. One day, I know it’s not going to happen and it’ll all come crashing down on me. But I guess I feel like that would be too comfortable in our jobs. I said, so what about, of all the publications? I’ve asked this to quite a few people I’m always interested to know what is their favorite publication that they have been an author or co-author on. And why is that your favorite publication?
Petra Schwille (00:49:04):
So I, I, I mean, of course there are many aspects why something could be a favorite publication, but I think there are two most important publications for my career. And the first one is really my very first publication, my own first publication, my first, first author, because this was a paper that I wrote every single word alone without any help. I have two co authors who one gave me some, some DNA probes. And the other one was my official, uh ,caborator in the, uh, in Stockholm who kind of at some point had an idea that I then, you know, made into a paper, but that was, I carried that thing through, uh, from the beginning to the end and submitted it and everything. And, and I got back from biophysical. I mean, I still grateful to biophysical journal for that letter. Thank you for submitting this publication to biophysical journal because it was really, it was a fantastic experience.
Petra Schwille (00:50:04):
It was my first, you know, self-made publication and also very important one about cross-pollination. And the other one is, that, that our only science publications that we ever got, this is the main protein. shelf-organization because this is just such a fantastic result that we got that. I mean, when I saw this in the, in the microscope, I thought I would, he saw the self organization and pet information by the listening proteins. I’ve never seen something that beautiful, ever again. I mean, we have now more beautiful images, but it was the first time that we saw them and was like, Oh my God,
Peter O’Toole (00:50:48):
I’m guessing we’re not so dissimilar in age that when you, when you spend, you had that manuscript that was put in the postbox So two copies or whatever, how I remember how many copies we had to do in a big grand envelope and put it to you.
Petra Schwille (00:51:04):
Yeah, exactly. That’s the first time. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (00:51:07):
And then you got a letter back. It’s always good to get that because you, it just goes into a black hole. You don’t know where it’s gone to. And of course you then got loads when he’s published, usually get 50 publications back of your publication for you to send that. And people used to write to you
Petra Schwille (00:51:28):
It old day.
Peter O’Toole (00:51:31):
Not too bad, those cards. Yes. I remember. Right. Yeah. How’d you get invites, write that card and send it to me. Oh, good. Great.
Petra Schwille (00:51:38):
Actually, I just talked with a person from Eastern Germany and they said that these cards were basically their own, you know, at the, in the time of the PDR that was there, you know, lifeline to real science because they, of course did not have the magazines and they did not have the books. So they, they, they only lived through this, you know, preprints. Yeah. And at that basically they would share them with each other. So for them, these cards were really, really, really important.
Peter O’Toole (00:52:11):
How times change, how much easier I don’t, if it’s better or worse now I find it.
Petra Schwille (00:52:17):
What is that? I mean, everything is much easier. Now, what is worse is that, you know, the threshold for publications so low and so many, so many bad papers and so many bad journals, and that’s not good, but
Peter O’Toole (00:52:33):
It could be so many bad reviews as well. Yeah. Not doing that. Reviewing
Petra Schwille (00:52:40):
That is another story,
Peter O’Toole (00:52:43):
Which also then come on to the stresses of the intensity of work, I think has gone up as well, because everything is so fast and so instant, there’s a lot more of it to, to juggle.
Petra Schwille (00:52:53):
And, and particularly in the high impact journals, I mean, what you get as reviews. I mean, it’s like, this is just obnoxious. I mean, they, they basically ask you to write the full insecure PDR of a phenomenon. I mean, it’s, you know, was just one paper where we discovered a very interesting, mechanism and got that from a high impact journal, basically. Yeah. Everything’s nice. Show it in vivo. We showed it in vivo and then the next review was, yeah, but you haven’t measured the exact force for that molecule. I mean, if you compare it, it was like from the time when people did develop, discovered molecular motors to the time that they can measure the force by one model, it was basically like asking all of this in one publication. It’s like, come on, leave other people something to do. I mean, it’s, it’s fine that we reported a phenomenon and, and a mechanism is why would we also have to spit out numbers? And every possible thing you could know about this molecule? Yeah. It’s uh, ah, just, just fresh in my mind, on my mind. It’s like, I mean, people are, they, they are not reasonable in no. I mean, on the, on the, on the lowest side and on the high side,
Peter O’Toole (00:54:12):
I, I, I think that’s a really crucial point that you’ve just made about a publication is about the work that’s being done as a package. And you’re not wrong. The number of times you get questions coming back, which is in itself another year.
Petra Schwille (00:54:28):
Exactly. It’s an, it’s another paper. It could be the next project for a PhD student and it would be fine. It does not make any sense to hold up the publication of an interesting, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not, it’s not that they said, well, this is wrong and this is nothing wrong. It’s just that we did not measure everything. We could have measured come on. Like this
Peter O’Toole (00:54:52):
It’s complimentary in a way that they’ve looked at it, read it and want to know more eager, but they can put that in a positive. I cannot wait for the next publication that can show this or are they just showing off. That they’ve thought of something you may not have thought
Petra Schwille (00:55:09):
It’s kind of a combination. And probably they had a hard time with their own last publication. So they want you to have a hard time. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a mixture of, of not very positive human uh impulses. I would say
Peter O’Toole (00:55:27):
It doesn’t make the science any. It doesn’t mean,
Petra Schwille (00:55:33):
You know, I’m a, a Ma Planck director. If I don’t get that thing published in that journal, then I don’t get it published in the journal. Then I send it somewhere else. But the PhD student he’s really, he is with his nerves at, at the bottom. Basically, he, he completely gave up. I think this is, this is something that might drive him out of science. I I’m, I’m not kidding. He might, at some point say, I’m not playing this game and he’s right. And that would be really bad.
Peter O’Toole (00:56:08):
I’m not leaving on that stat of very sad point. But I guess anyone who keeps a career in science has to build up quite a thick skin, become quite tolerant clearly. But I think you see people,
Peter O’Toole (00:56:24):
You know, when you have collaborators, you see very different ways of handling reviewers comments, both on grant applications and on manuscripts, some explode in anger and fight back fire with fire others are completely put out. You just go, Oh, okay. We’re not good. I do think there’s a very happy medium here to, to listen and to rebutt, and I think people need to have the confidence to rebutt robustly and say, unreasonable. This is right, but we can’t do that extra step. You know, there’s not time or funds quite often do those extra steps, but I think editors need to also take that into consideration.
Petra Schwille (00:57:06):
I think it is the maturity of the editors that determined at the end. What I, I mean, I’ve seen many, many ways of handling this and unfortunately I have to say that the, the big impact yeah. You know, nature science is not so bad, but, but nature science I have to say that I sometimes feel that they, these editors lack confidence to just, you know, say, come on, forget about this review. I mean, it’s just, how can you not see how stupid it is? You must see it. I mean, it’s in particular, since it’s a pattern, I mean, you have all the time. There are, I mean that I have also witnessed other editors where, you know, they say, well, we have this review, but you do this one more thing and it’s going to be fine. Right. That, that is very often the more senior scientific editors. And that, that makes the quality of a journal really. And not what the age factor is. Also the quality of the journal is really how an editor runs it.
Peter O’Toole (00:58:12):
I’m going to come out of science for a minute because after, after a day like that when you have those problems, I don’t go home and I’ll eat and I’ll probably put the TV on. I need to zone out just as I don’t have to watch it. It just needs to be on just background. If nothing counts, what would you rather a TV or a book?
Petra Schwille (00:58:39):
I definitely like to read, I I’ve I’ve, since I can think I’ve, I’ve always liked reading. I have not much read many books in the last years. I I’m a newspaper addict. So I usually, if I have spare time, I usually take a newspaper or magazine and read that it’s I don’t know why that is. I, I don’t have the stamina anymore for big books. And I’m also a very, very, very you know, spoiled because I’ve really read very good books and I feel that a book doesn’t, it’s not worth it. And I don’t don’t don’t read it anymore. And I also have to say that I got sick of these usual stories, like love stories and, and, and, and, you know, catastrophes. And at some point it’s like you age, you’ve seen it all. There’s very, very little that surprises you. So,
Peter O’Toole (00:59:37):
Yeah. We’re not even old yet.
Petra Schwille (00:59:41):
No, but it’s actually really true. I mean, I have to say that so often I feel that this story I’ve seen it a hundred times. I don’t want to see it again. Like, it’s really true. So, so newspapers, you always get something new.
Peter O’Toole (00:59:55):
Well, not very nice.
Petra Schwille (01:00:00):
Yeah. It doesn’t raise your mood, but it’s nevertheless interesting and important.
Peter O’Toole (01:00:06):
Oh, are we talking a printed press here or online press?
Petra Schwille (01:00:11):
Both I have I have printed a newspaper that I get every day and I have the, the, the, the weekly ones I have online.
Peter O’Toole (01:00:19):
Okay. I I’ll buy a paper quite often, sometimes on a Saturday, but otherwise online at that point,
Petra Schwille (01:00:26):
I think the funny thing is that the TV that runs very, very, I have a TV. And if we watch it, we usually watch either the news or or a movie on video.
Peter O’Toole (01:00:40):
What was your last, what was the last movie you watched then The Martian? Okay.
Peter O’Toole (01:00:46):
We me just watch it last night. That wasn’t part
Peter O’Toole (01:00:48):
Of, I was quite good. Actually. It was all about
Petra Schwille (01:00:50):
A really good movie. I liked it. Liked it also so,
Peter O’Toole (01:00:54):
I think the last one I watched was John Wick three, which is just the same as John Wick two. Umaybe it is just a, it’s just an action movie from start to end, but my children love it. Uhnd actually it’s quite, it’s not about action film. It is just fortuitous.
Petra Schwille (01:01:13):
I haven’t heard of it. I probably the German handle is totally different.
Peter O’Toole (01:01:16):
I, I would yeah, it is just an action. Shoot them up, knife them beat them up. One man can take on a whole army by himself type moving kind of, but you said about how books never changed? I think movies
Petra Schwille (01:01:36):
Even worse with movies. I mean, these movies, I, I don’t watch anymore. I sometimes I like, I mean, in the, in the cinema, if you have the big show, then you can deal with it, but
Peter O’Toole (01:01:51):
It was entertaining. We laughed at quite a lot of it. That’s a good thing. Otherwise I said my 13 year old, he’s almost getting too old now to watch children’s TV. And it’s always been nice to sit down and just watch a bit of children’s TV with them, whether it be very early the weekend or the evening, just a bit, and just be with them when they’re watching their TV.
Petra Schwille (01:02:17):
My kids are very, they, they very much want to watch something together. That’s really something that they really love. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (01:02:25):
I think this is changing now that coding, mixing music or playing on a PlayStation some game or some sort. Yeah,
Petra Schwille (01:02:34):
Fortunately that PlayStation thing did not enter our house. I mean, I, kids like to play games on the iPad, so I phones, but the PlayStation never made it to us.
Peter O’Toole (01:02:46):
At least the summer we’ve had a decent summer this year. So actually my son took my youngest to cup cricket and hit and fall and hit a ball badly. Whereas football, my knees don’t like football too much.
Petra Schwille (01:03:02):
I, I, we have every year we have not this year, but every other year we have summer games of our Institute. And I, I, every year I participated in the big soccer tournament of the different departments. And every year I hurt my knee and then the arm and tell me, I mean, it was not very bad, but, but always that I, you know, a couple of weeks, I something hurt really badly so that I spared myself this this year because of corona.
Peter O’Toole (01:03:37):
Yes. I actually, I, I actually, I might have pulled out to Elmi. So, you know, Elmi is, that was yeah, they have a foot pre pre football match me to join that next time. But yeah, every, I think this year three of us were quite nastily injured after for some time after that and his back was really bad
Petra Schwille (01:03:58):
And, and I always injured myself. It’s not that somebody does it. They are all, I mean, they’re very nice to me, right? It’s not running over me, but it’s, if something is always going on,
Peter O’Toole (01:04:08):
It’s a bad jump or just a bad sprint. It’s never, it’s never fun.
Petra Schwille (01:04:11):
And since you don’t practice, it isn’t that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help them, you know
Peter O’Toole (01:04:18):
Quick final thoughts. Cause I realize you’re coming up to the end now for the hour mark. Any advice you’d give anyone starting out today. So your PhD students actually, I’m gonna ask a question I’ve never asked this what do you prefer? You might not want to answer. Who do you prefer to have in your lab, PhD students or post-docs
Petra Schwille (01:04:39):
Phd students very clearly because you can, you know, it’s the way of growing into a, into a problem is so much people. I mean, very rarely. I mean, I, I like my postdocs and I have had very, very good postdocs, but you know, usually it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a lottery whether it works or not for the, for the post-docs I mean, if they’re really good, they can always make something of their time here. Very often the postdocs already have the, you know, the, the concentration on the career after the post very few are free to really admire these precious two or three years where you have all the scientific,ubrain and all the scientific freedom, which I think postdoc time for me, the post-doc time was the most fantastic time, but that’s not anymore the case. They very often have already, you know, that they are thinking about the next step and are we missing something here? And so very rarely they can just concentrate on the present and do their work,ufor the PhD students. It’s just the possibility that they have three to, four years of maturing, which is, which is so much better
Peter O’Toole (01:06:00):
That, that, that I think you, I think I can guess the question is what the answer to what my last question was, which was, what advice would you give someone starting out today in their career?
Petra Schwille (01:06:14):
Well, I mean, for the PhD, I can not give much advice. I mean, in the, during the PhD, you basically have to find out for yourself whether you are a scientist or not. And I think it’s really if you’re, if you’re very alert and, and if, if, if you, if you’re very, you know, objective, then you, you know it. And I think that that is basically what you have to decide by the end of the PhD. Am I a hundred percent academic scientists, or am I not? And if, if you’re not, and if there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because the world needs good scientists also that are not academics. And if you are then something that I would definitely recommend for every post-doc, don’t follow the project, but formulate your own project and do it from the day one of your post-doc.
Peter O’Toole (01:07:12):
So I’m going to challenge now. I hope I get the right answer to this. A postdoc starts on a funded project, which has a start, a middle and an end described in the application that was funded. How can they follow their part, follow their own path within it?
Petra Schwille (01:07:31):
The whole construction is wrong. I, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that for post-docs because you never find the person. I mean, unless you’re formulating this project for somebody, you know, already that happens, right? So sometimes you, you know, that a student coming from another level, come to your lab and do something out of this. Very so for a PhD, I would, I would always say, not in a, in a, in a grant application, a PhD is much more useful than a post doc because the PhD can really do the work. Right. A post-doc unless you find this person, right. That can do it.
Peter O’Toole (01:08:10):
Yeah. In the UK, typically most grants will be post-docs. I have that very prescriptive thing. And I think that the most successful academics, they will start at that start point, but they may end up at the end of that completely like completely different.
Petra Schwille (01:08:30):
That’s always possible that you are on a project. And then, I mean, the, that the, you know, the funding agency gives you the freedom to not do what is written there, but to something else. And they’re still happy. I mean, at least that’s true for the German research foundation.
Peter O’Toole (01:08:44):
I don’t know if it’s written anywhere, but I think if you, if you’re successful, if you start in the same place and end up somewhere totally different, but succeed and make an impact and publish and show worth, I think that’s a win. And I think
Petra Schwille (01:08:58):
Absolutely. Yeah. And every decent funding agency will cherish that also.
Peter O’Toole (01:09:05):
Right. Because that’s what academic science is about, I guess.
Petra Schwille (01:09:09):
Yeah, exactly. You can never say what comes out. I mean, you can only say what you want to work on.
Peter O’Toole (01:09:15):
So I am hugely relieved that your your laptop has survived.
Speaker 2 (01:09:20):
Yeah. Yeah. 28%. So we can still go on,
Peter O’Toole (01:09:25):
We will stop that because it is at the hour. Mark Patrick, thank you actually, for back in 2001 being so inspiring as part of that course, that, that, that course is what encouraged me to develop my career in this direction. And I know the same for Ricardo as well.
Petra Schwille (01:09:42):
I’m glad to hear that.
Peter O’Toole (01:09:44):
Claudia And Oliver Rox they’re all, very static course was hugely inspired.
Petra Schwille (01:09:49):
It was a nice course. I also, I also enjoyed it a lot and I did not feel like a, you know, a teacher. So it was just like sharing knowledge with someone.
Peter O’Toole (01:10:01):
Yeah. We’re not so different in age. And I felt like a little boy learning. And so I remember that feeling of feeling so young at that meeting. It could be strange, but thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time today to talk to me.
Petra Schwille (01:10:17):
It was a pleasure. Thank you for asking me. Okay. Bye.