I enjoy working interdisciplinary and as part of a team!

A woman holding a model human brain.
Nina Reiter, Dep. MB, Lehrstuhl für Technische Mechanik, promoviert bei Silvia Budday. (Bild: Giulia Iannicelli/FAU)

In our series of 22 reports, we present a panorama of female researchers from various qualification levels and academic positions, ranging from students to W3 professors. With their individual career paths, the female researchers in STEM subjects act as role models to encourage young female researchers to pursue an academic career, giving interesting insights into their careers to date. The MINT experts also share aspects of their private lives.

Doctoral candidate Nina Reiter: ‘I enjoy working interdisciplinary and as part of a team!’

Nina Reiter, born (in 1995) and brought up in Fürth got a taste for technical professions from an early age, both thanks to her family and at school. At FAU, she completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She is currently completing a doctoral degree in biomechanics, focusing on the mechanical properties of brain tissue. Her research is looking into developing methods for protecting the brain, for example in case of an accident. After completing her doctoral degree, she hopes to pursue a career in academia and become a professor.

How it all began …

‘My father works in a technical profession. Even as a child, I got a feel for working in a technical company. At school, I was interested in sciences, languages and technology, particularly aeronautics. I went on a trip to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Lufthansa, and found it really fascinating. I also attended a camp for young female researchers in the 10th grade that also involved aviation. We, a group of school girls, worked together with a female engineer to draw up concepts for manufacturing a component for an aircraft. All these experiences helped me decide to study a technical subject and become an engineer.’

The right encouragement at the right time

‘First of all, I started to study a Bachelor’s degree in international production engineering and management at FAU, but I realised during the very first semester that I would like to explore the foundational subjects in more depth. I decided to change over to mechanical engineering in the second semester. The fact that I finally ended up in mechanics is thanks to the professor I had for the foundational course at the beginning of my Bachelor’s degree. His humorous nature and his entertaining lectures sparked my enthusiasm for the subject of mechanics. During my Master’s degree programme, I worked as a student assistant for the female researcher who is now my supervisor. The job is just great. It’s thanks to the job that I became interested in the mechanics of the brain, which I decided to take as the subject for my Master‘s thesis. It was while I was working as an assistant that I attracted my supervisor’s attention, and she then offered me the doctoral position.’

My research

‘My doctoral research, research focuses on the mechanical properties of brain tissue. ‘A sound understanding of the mechanical properties of brain tissue is important when creating computer models of the brain for simulating accidents, designing helmets or assisting surgeons in their work. Current computer models of the brain are based on material properties that have been discovered using experiments but not actually connected to components of specific brain tissue. This means that the data gained from the brains of elderly body donors cannot be transferred to children or young people. I hope to contribute towards optimising existing computer models of the brain. I am also trying to discover the impact of mechanical load on the cells and vessels in the tissue. The results may lead to a better understanding of injuries caused by traumatic brain injury. This understanding is also important when designing protective equipment.

A woman working in a lab.
Nina Reiter, Dep. MB, Chair of Engineering Mechanics, is doing her doctorate under Silvia Budday. (Image: Giulia Iannicelli/FAU)

For me, the exciting thing about my scientific work is …

‘… that I can learn so much about the brain. Most of the time, my work doesn’t feel like work because I am busy finding out about things that fascinate me. It never gets boring. I also really enjoy working in a team: Sometimes the results of my experiments don’t really seem anything special to me, but my supervisor is thrilled about them as she has a different overview of the literature in the field and knows that there are research groups who may find these results very interesting. I appreciate our regular group meetings in which we discuss our current research, any difficulties we have encountered and any possible openings for collaboration. It was also great to have the amazing opportunity to spend a week at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi as part of a DAAD exchange programme run by my Chair while I was studying for my Bachelor‘s degree.

FAU offers me …

‘… the ideal conditions for my interdisciplinary research, thanks to the wide variety of research institutes at FAU focusing on engineering, medicine and biology, and collaboration with the Max Planck Centre. The University also offers internal programmes to support and advance young female researchers, and I have benefited from them. I really enjoy working together with colleagues from anatomy, biochemistry and stem cell biology and gaining an insight into other research areas.

My daily work …

‘… is very varied! It is a mixture of office and laboratory work. In the office I analyse measurements and images or videos. I take part in meetings with my team, my supervisor and my cooperation partners. When we have results that we would like to publish I draw up figures and am involved in helping to write the text. Working hours at our Chair are very flexible and we can decide ourselves whether to work from home or go in to the university. I can choose where to work depending on what I have to do that day. If I need to concentrate hard, I prefer to work in the office, for tasks like brainstorming or long-term planning I prefer to work from home. Sometimes I correct my students’ written work or help them with any questions they have. In the laboratory I supervise students who are writing their final theses in my area. I myself conduct experiments on pigs’ brains from the slaughterhouse in Erlangen. Now and again we also receive brains from people who have donated their body to research after death. With a human brain, it is important to do as many experiments as possible before the tissue starts to deteriorate. On days like that we tend to stay in the lab longer than usual.’

Alongside my research, I …

‘… took part in a summer school in 2019 on the topic of Sustainability and eco-tourism in Denpasar (Indonesia). It was really interesting. I am also involved in tending the TechFak garden and belong to a group of students who are making the Roter Platz at the Faculty of Engineering greener by planting vegetables and herbs. During the pandemic, we were still able to work outside. Gardening helped us cultivate social contacts and meet new people. I am very sporty in my free time, I am passionate about dancing and water sports. I swim, go kayaking and enjoy stand up paddling.’

My tip for young women who want to study a STEM subject:

‘Just start, and don’t let yourself be put off by the fact that there are not many other women in this area. Above all, don’t keep worrying that you are not suitable. Degree programmes start by covering the basics in the various subjects, so you don’t need any special previous knowledge. It is helpful if you can attend a few lectures beforehand and read through the module handbook. If you don’t like the subject you have chosen, you can always change to a related subject, or even something completely different. For a doctoral degree, enthusiasm, conscientious working and stamina are more important than good grades in the subject to date. You have a great degree of independence when you are working on your doctoral thesis, but first of all you have to find your feet. It’s perfectly normal if you don’t know all there is to know about everything from the outset.’

This article is part of the brochure “The Sky is the Limit”

Headerimage The Sky is the Limit
Brochure “The Sky is the Limit”

Brochure “The Sky is the Limit”

Diverse, inspiring and innovative, the brochure “The Sky is the Limit” introduces female researchers in STEM subjects from the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Sciences in a series of varied interviews.

Other interviews are available on the Research website.

Download the brochure “The Sky is the Limit — Female STEM scientists at FAU”

The publication is the result of collaboration between RTG 2423 FRASCAL and the Office of Equality and Diversity. Dr. Susanne Stemmler conducted the interviews.