Family and leading-edge research go hand in hand at FKIE

Carolin, you studied electrical engineering at RWTH Aachen University. How did you get from there to Fraunhofer FKIE?

Carolin: Of course, I was already aware of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft during my studies. While working toward my master's degree, I participated in the Femtec Career Building program, where I got acquainted with Fraunhofer in general as well as with Fraunhofer FKIE. I had also heard about FKIE from fellow students who had attended lectures by FKIE scientists at RWTH. I graduated in 2019, and then my son was born, and I took parental leave. After that, my husband and I asked ourselves where we wanted to work. Where do we want to go? That's when I remembered Fraunhofer FKIE. And here, the whole package just seemed right: the topics, the application-oriented research that appealed to us, the opportunity to perhaps also do a doctorate, the location, and the family-friendliness. I then simply submitted an unsolicited application and it actually worked out.


You and your husband, who also works at Fraunhofer FKIE, are both young professionals. How do you reconcile your careers with your young son, with your family?

Carolin: The working conditions at FKIE are ideal for us. It was no problem at all that we both work part-time, which is more difficult at many companies. At FKIE, the philosophy was: of course, you can both start part-time. Also, we both managed to schedule our working hours flexibly with our supervisors – that’s just perfect when you have a child.

At first, I was worried whether I would be perceived as only »half« a team member, but that concern quickly vanished. Also, everyone here is very flexible when it comes to working hours. If that were not the case, I can't imagine how we could make this work at the moment (not least because of the Covid-19 pandemic).


For you, an important part of the overall Fraunhofer FKIE package is applied research. Why?

Carolin: I always enjoyed academic work during my studies, and then while working on my master's thesis at DLR, I was exposed to more application-oriented research and came to appreciate it. From then on, it was clear to me that I wanted to do something in that direction. And I found Fraunhofer really exciting. At university, it can be easy to stay in your own bubble and focus on your dissertation. At Fraunhofer FKIE, on the other hand, we work on projects as a team – there is a lot of dialogue. Everyone is enthusiastic about research and science and interested in what you are doing. You also get to see how inventions are applied in practice and what research interests and potential applications are behind them.

At Fraunhofer FKIE, you've got one foot in the industry and one foot in science. This is also important for me with a view to the future. Through the joint projects with industry, I have the feeling that I can get to know companies much more personally.


What are you working on right now?

Carolin: One of the things I'm working on is a project we're collaborating on with the other Fraunhofer Institute here on campus, Fraunhofer FHR. It involves networks of different radar stations for space surveillance. The area of responsibility in this FKIE project is radar resource management. Apart from this topic, I find it exciting that I get a direct insight into a project with several partners and learn what is involved – for instance, in terms of project management and organization – and how time-consuming it is to plan a multi-year project. The second research project I am working on is in the field of sensor management. Here, we have started programming from scratch, so to speak, and we don't yet know exactly how the whole thing will develop. I really like the combination of both projects – one focused very much on the practical and the other more basic-research oriented.


And what about a doctorate? Would that also be something for you?

Carolin: I can definitely imagine doing a doctorate, and from what I've heard so far, it's very welcome to do so at Fraunhofer FKIE. It’s encouraged and you also get support. There are definitely enough research topics that could develop into an exciting dissertation. In the near future, I'll be keeping an eye out for topics I can get involved with and where a question arises which could develop into a specific subject of doctoral research. I’d also like to take advantage of the opportunities for further education outside of the content-related work topics, also with a view to a dissertation or publications. For example, I have already participated in a seminar on writing scientific papers in English.


What do you like most about Fraunhofer FKIE?

Carolin: We have a very informal atmosphere here, many young and highly motivated people, everything is very equal and there are no rigid hierarchies – you really feel and live the esprit de corps, which is great. There are also many other women working at SDF besides me, which is fairly rare in electrical engineering. Of course, you can't really control that, but it's just nice that it worked out that way. What I also particularly like about Fraunhofer FKIE is that the environment is a bit more intimate than in a large corporation, where things can quickly become overwhelming.


What do you look forward to in your future at FKIE?

Carolin: Definitely personal contact. That's my highest priority right now. Because of Covid – I started in October 2020 - I only see most of my colleagues online. My overriding goal at the moment is to have a daily routine with my co-workers and to be able to briefly exchange ideas with a colleague at the office. Still, I hope that the opportunity to work in a home office from time to time will still be an option – it's really valuable to us, as a family.

On one of my first days at FKIE, I learned that you can even see Cologne Cathedral from the roofs of the buildings when visibility is good – I definitely want to investigate this rumor during my time at the institute!