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ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
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Published: 08.02.2006, 06:00
Modified: 15.02.2006, 13:53
Successful combination of research and family
When the chemistry is right

(cm) Reconciling the demands of research and family is a particular challenge. But it is possible at Ciba “Spezialitätenchemie”, specialized chemistry. This was seen last week in the person of Annemarie Wolleb, who spoke of her experience before a mainly female audience at a colloquium organised by the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences entitled "Research and family - doing one without neglecting the other" (1).

Wolleb encountered this dual challenge while doing doctoral work in chemistry at the University of Berne. Two years after commencing her studies she gave birth to her first child. Thanks to her supervisor’s willingness to cooperate by allowing her to reduce her working time in the lab to 50 per cent and do much work at home and at weekends, she succeeded in balancing both tasks. Wolleb, whose husband works full-time, managed to complete her Ph.D. thesis two weeks before the birth of her second child.

She then took a three-year break from research, during which the youngest of her three children was born. Now returned to scientific work, she has taken advantage of an unusual offer: Ciba asked Wolleb and her husband (already working for the company) if they wanted to share their work. The couple decided to accept this unusual model of job-sharing, whereby he worked 80 per cent and she assumed the other 20. In the meantime she has been able to take on another40 percent.


Chemical problems with the washing up

The chemist believes that the advantage to the company, and the reason why it agreed to this work pattern, is that two heads can work on a problem better than one. The condition was that the two people involved also exchanged chemical problems at home, even that meant while doing the dishes. They were also able to cover for one another if minor illnesses cropped up, as they were completely free in how to divide their working time.

Men and company heads challenged

Wolleb likes the working model because, above all, it enables her and her husband to look after their children themselves while continuing to do research. Despite her successful example, however, she notes that they are still an exception in the company. She is convinced that with more willingness on the part of company bosses and men, more part-time work would be possible in industrial research.

Although there are probably not many couples who could share their research work, the example of Annemarie Wolleb at least shows that a family does not dim the enthusiasm for research. It seemed to the listeners, in fact, that this chemist almost preferred speaking about her research into dyes for optical storage media than about her (still) unusual job situation.

(1) Colloquium of the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences:

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