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Swapped Jeans for a Suit

By Judith Jenner

Academics talk about their move from higher education to the private sector.

Swapped Jeans for a SuitBenjamin Nehls, Senior Manager of Strategy, Planning and Controlling in the Inorganics Department at BASF in Ludwigshafen
Career paths between research, marketing and administration are not unusual at chemical company BASF. Benjamin Nehls is Senior Manager of Strategy, Planning and Controlling in the Inorganics Division at BASF in Ludwigshafen.

Previously, the chemist had conducted research into fire- and heat-resistant insulation materials at the company. "After a period in the lab, it is considered desirable to get to know other areas of the company and return to research again later", says the 32-year-old. To help him get started, his employer initially funded several further training courses for him, for example on team leadership and communication. "The daily routine here is far more structured than at university", says Nehls, who completed his doctorate at the Institute of Polymer Chemistry at the University of Wuppertal and the University of Durham (UK) and conducted research into polymer surfaces in Cambridge.

"You come to work in a suit instead of jeans, and the atmosphere among colleagues is more competitive", says Nehls. This also applies to research, he continues. "The aim is to purposefully achieve results that are actually marketable." He is in contact with customers and colleagues abroad, and works with various departments. In order to learn more about unfamiliar areas of activity and to network within the company, Nehls has additionally started the "running desk" project with some of his co-workers, where different colleagues present themselves and their work at irregular intervals.

He could easily have imagined himself staying at university, completing a habilitation and aiming for a professorship, but then at a conference he received an offer to work for BASF. The role interested him, and he accepted. Neither was it a negative experience that prompted him to take this step, nor was he enticed by the salary, which is at a similar level.

next: In the engineering sciences, the way back to university remains open - Ulf Bunge (39) today manages the Calculation and Simulation Department at Semcon Wolfsburg GmbH»