Chemistry student in the 80s in Hamburg, Iver works now as senior scientist at PVcomB/HZB, the competence centre photovoltaics in Berlin. Training the young generation of researchers is very important to him and he likes also learning from them.
From chemistry in Hamburg to solar cells in Berlin, let us know more about your career journey.
During my studies in Hamburg, I already touched the photoelectrochemistry field which is close to photovoltaics. I followed up with a PhD thesis at the Institute for Solar Energy Research (ISFH) in Hannover and did my Postdoc at Caltech in Pasadena (CA/USA).
The step towards Berlin came later on, first the Hahn Meitner Institute and later on BESSY II synchrotron in a group started by my colleague Christian-Herbert Fischer with the topic of surface analysis.
What are your memories of your PhD?
It was an amazing time. I started at Hamburg university and my supervisor got a position at the ISFH in Hannover. With other students we followed him and started the adventure of building a new institute and a lab. Basically, before I could even think about my PhD I did a lot of exciting work on photoelectric chemistry, new semiconductors. All very new stuff at that time and I immersed myself in discovering all that.
What did you learn from that experience for your mission as supervisor?
I learnt probably most from the PhD issues that sometimes arise. My supervisor was way too busy installing the new institute and so the PhD students sometimes had to ask for some guidance. I know now how much you need other scientists like postdocs to take care of the students in a group.
From that time, I remember also how much as a student you have to be independent; you need to ask for advice… there is not place to be shy. I believe, knowing this now that “I am on the other side” is very helpful to be understanding and pay attention to that.
What do you like in supervising students?
First of all, I like that every student is different. There is not generalisation possible. I enjoy learning to know a student, understanding the way he/she works, learns new concepts… For me being surrounded by master, bachelor or PhD students is extremely enriching; without them my working days would be very boring. Sometimes over the years very strong relations build up. I am still in contact with a PhD student who lives now in Turkey and we publish also articles together. That is very special to me.
Any challenges in supervising students?
Of course, they are; sometimes you encounter conflicts when working together. However, I do not want to miss them as they are part of teamwork.
There are also motivating challenges. I like the fact, that I often work with physicists and I am a chemist. Over the PhD period of three years, they start to know things I am not an expert in. Sometimes they have knowledge of programming and computing, this is not my field. That is excellent for me, I need to keep up and to dig in with them.
What is central for you to pass on to PhD students?
The science is central – they have to write a thesis of course, however I want to open them to develop something new, to learn scientific methods and to ask scientific questions. They are passionate about science, it is important now that they do science and that they embrace it.
There are many different tasks to do and to learn: preparing samples, doing measurements, working in the lab together… what I enjoy most here is coming to the beamline, helping them, showing things to each other, practicing things together that require training.
When you are neither in your office nor in the lab, what do you do?
I am a beekeeper. Luckily, I have a lovely garden, where I keep my bees and in spring and summer, I am very busy there. It’s fun and my colleagues often ask me for honey!
I have also a passion for theatre plays and I am also a member of a theatre group in Berlin “Schattenlichter” for more than 20 years.
Thank you for this interview Iver Lauermann.
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