STEM? Because of the good career prospects!

A woman working in a lab.
Rahel Algül, Studentin an der TechFak, Dep. CBI. (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.

Master’s student Rahel Olivia Algül: ′STEM? Because of the good career prospects!′

Rahel Olivia Algül, born in 1994 in Füssen, has Aramaic roots and was brought up in a large family in the Allgäu in Germany. Her interest in science was sparked at an early age, partly thanks to one of her uncles who was training to become a prospective physician. At the end of the day, however, her decision to study a STEM subject was based on more rational considerations, namely the good career prospects. At FAU, she first completed a Bachelor’s degree in life science engineering. She then changed to chemical and biological engineering (CBI), and is currently working on her Master’s.

My life in two cultures

‘My family has always been keen to cultivate our Aramaic culture and language. Before I started kindergarten, I was only able to speak Aramaic. After that, I forgot quite a lot as we switched over to German. I started school in 2001 and had a lot of sporty hobbies. I was in the gymnastics, track and field and swimming clubs, and learnt the martial art of Jiu Jitsu. It was a great experience for me when our local priest agreed to introduce the primary school children to Aramaic. At grammar school, I followed the advice of older pupils and chose to focus on economics and social sciences, as by choosing this option you could delay starting to study the subjects of chemistry and physics, which had a reputation for being very hard. I wasn’t particularly good at STEM subjects at school…’

Why STEM after all?

‘After leaving school, two friends and I worked and travelled our way around Asia and Australia for six months. I hoped that I would be able to decide what to study during this time abroad. While I was growing up, I was very interested in sport, biology and medicine. I became more and more interested in medicine thanks to my uncle, who was studying medicine at the time. I could always turn to him when I had any questions and we often talked about the anatomy of the human body. At home, we also had a book about medicine and health, and I enjoyed reading all about it. My parents also encouraged me by giving me books and games on the topic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the grades I would have needed to study medicine. That is why I decided to study a Bachelor’s degree in life science engineering. I then changed over to chemical and biological engineering, as when I was applying for internships no-one really knew what life science engineering was. At the moment I am writing my Master’s thesis on malaria.’

I am interested in the area where engineering and biology overlap

‘Unfortunately, languages and sport do not have a good reputation for leading to a good job, which is why I finally chose to study engineering. The career prospects are much better. I was particularly interested in the area where engineering and biology overlap, which is why life science engineering appealed. Later, I would like to work in oncology and research ways of treating cancer. First of all, though, I would like to complete my internship in Israel that was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. If it goes ahead as planned this time, I will work in the area of cancer research, which would help me learn some basic skills for my future profession.’

A woman holding a volley ball.
Rahel Algül, student at TechFak, Dep. CBI. (Image: Giulia Iannicelli/FAU)

The coronavirus pandemic confirmed my decision to get into STEM

‘The success of the vaccine produced by the biotechnology company BioNTech underlined the crucial role biotechnology is set to play in the future, as there will be more epidemics and pandemics to come. Many biotechnology companies are also involved in cancer research and I think that there will be some promising medical breakthroughs concerning drugs for treating cancer one day in the future.’

Good working conditions at FAU

‘I have now finished all lectures and examinations and am currently working on my Master’s thesis. I need to go into the lab and carry out my experiments, which I will then analyse and write up in my thesis. I work flexible hours and can choose myself when to go to the laboratory. As the degree programme covers a wide range of subjects, there are lots of different options for areas to work in. In addition, the degree programme focuses on sustainability, which makes a lot of sense in the current situation and is advantageous when choosing a future career. What I particularly like is that I can work in the area of medicine without having to study medicine.’

Support from FAU:

‘In the degree programme in CBI, you have to complete a practical part before starting your Master‘s thesis. I completed my practical training at the Chair of Medical Biotechnology. That allowed me to gain even more experience in working in a laboratory, which will also be beneficial for future jobs. I was very well supervised and after receiving an induction, I was allowed to use the equipment by myself. It was also good to have contact to the doctoral candidates who ran the tutorials. If something in one of the lectures was unclear we could ask them about it. I really liked the fact that the professors treated the oral examinations as a ‘discussion among experts’ instead of patronising us.’

Study groups contributed to success

‘I found the Bachelor’s degree programme very stretching. There were a lot of examinations and internships, I felt like I never had a semester break. There was also a highly selective orientation phase at the beginning as there are no admission restrictions for the degree programme in life science engineering. The dropout and fail rates were very high during this stage. I only learnt to study effectively at university, where we mainly learnt together in study groups, something I hadn’t done at school.’

I would recommend FAU’s CyberMentor programme to girls who are still at school

‘I would recommend the CyberMentor programme to girls who want to study a STEM subject. Each school girl is allocated a mentor who can tell her all about life at university and is available to answer any questions. That would be a help for anyone who is unsure about studying a STEM subject. Remember: women are just as good at these subjects as men. In my degree programme, there are even equal numbers of male and female students. Whilst it may be harder to study STEM subjects, the career prospects at the end are much better. I think that companies will be happy to employ women, as they have already proven that they can stand up for themselves in a male-dominated area even while still at university.’

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.