From science management back to research

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Dr. Heike Leutheuser, Postdoktorandin Technische Fakultät ZIMT und INF, Lehrstuhl für Maschinelles Lernen und Datenanalytik Studium Physik (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.

Postdoctoral researcher Heike Leutheuser: From science management back to research

Physicist Dr. Heike Leutheuser, 34, has been director of the Central Institute of Medical Engineering (ZiMT) at FAU since 2017. The office, located in the former Siemens showroom on Henkestrasse in Erlangen, functions as an interdisciplinary communication centre between the Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Sciences. Key topics are research funding, university education, support for start-ups and networking in industry and healthcare. The ZiMT office assists with the course offer and advisory services for the Medical Engineering degree programme at FAU.

‘At the moment, I’m more a manager than a researcher,’

says Heike Leutheuser, the 34-year-old physicist is currently looking to make a career move and would like to return to pure science. ‘Although I enjoy the networking activities and helping students,’ Leutheuser says. But after four eventful years, she now feels drawn back to science, where she wants to work in the Machine Learning and Data Analytics Lab. Heike Leutheuser is interested in the development of algorithms for data analysis, whether for medical engineering, sport or healthcare. ‘It’s a branch of artificial intelligence or machine learning, whereby the second definition is more accurate,’ she explains. What she finds especially exciting about her subject area is the fact that with her research results, for example the analysis of ECG data, she can make a tangible contribution to disease prevention.

First taster of FAU as a school student

She already had a particular liking for mathematics and physics while still at school and also chose these two subjects for her final school examinations. Before starting her degree at FAU, she sat in on a few physics and maths lectures. ‘I checked it all out beforehand,’ she grins. These flying visits helped her decide to study physics, and one thing was especially clear to her: ‘In this STEM subject, you have to study hard and be motivated, like at school too.’ During her degree at FAU, she spent an Erasmus semester at Imperial College London and was later able to gather additional experience during her doctoral degree in computer science at the Mobilize Center and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery of Stanford University in the USA. ‘I would recommend to all students: Go abroad if you have the chance.’ Looking beyond the horizon proved important for Heike Leutheuser and has helped her to progress.

Dr. Heike Leutheuser, Postdoktorandin Technische Fakultät beim Kajakfahren
Dr. Heike Leutheuser, Postdoctoral Researcher Faculty of Technology
ZIMT and INF, Chair of Machine Learning and Data Analytics Data Analytics
Physics Studies
(Image: Giulia Iannicelli/FAU)

‘Being in Silicon Valley was a dream,’

she says, full of enthusiasm. She soon got to know other young scientists. Leutheuser was able to secure funding to finance her stay abroad. She decided early on to pursue a university career and now too – Heike Leutheuser has two children – she is pursuing her postdoctoral goal of habilitation ‘If I could paint a picture for the future, then in ten years’ time I’d like to be a professor at a German university.’ And what would be the worst case scenario for her in 2032? ‘Quite clearly, if things didn’t work out for me at the university!’ So far, she has only had temporary posts. ‘Fixed term contracts don’t make a researcher’s life any easier – neither for STEM women nor for STEM men. A bit more of a perspective would help.’ At the same time, however, she appreciates the good possibilities for networking at FAU through mentoring programmes such as ARIADNE and being able to work flexibly. And she emphasises: ‘My male supervisors have always supported me. It was a great advantage for me that my boss also has children.’

Even if the university and her two small children of nursery age keep her on her toes, Heike Leutheuser by no means seeks to relax in her free time. Instead, she likes to go canoeing. ‘Our club trains either on the Regnitz River or in the swimming pool, where we practise rolling with and without a paddle or other things in our kayaks.’ She is aware that her strong ties to the region are probably a disadvantage as far as her career is concerned. But if the right job were to come along, she is prepared, she says, with the support of her partner and her family to move elsewhere: for the love of science.

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.