11.02.2019 Interview with Dr. Magdalena Schindler (HAFL - BFH)

Get out of your comfortzone!

Today marks the annual UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which aims at taking a stand for women and girls in science and to break the stereotypes that hold them back. Bridging the gender gap in science is essential for achieving sustainable development and the aims of the Agenda 2030, especially SDG 5 (achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls). This year's theme is “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth”.

SDSN Switzerland wants to make a contribution to the promotion of the role of women and girls in science. An important topic in the discussion of sustainable development and green growth is a productive and sustainable agriculture. For this reason, we talked to Dr. Magdalena Schindler, the Director of the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, about her work and her career as a prominent scientist.

Dr. Schindler studied food technology at ETH Zurich and wrote her PhD on procedures for cleaning and making use of cheese dairy wastewater and whey for energy purposes.


What was your most memorable success as a researcher?

It was in the year 2000, when the universities of applied sciences in Switzerland were still very young and research was a new task for us. At that time I had the opportunity to lead a broad interdisciplinary research team of economists, forage specialists, animal scientists and milk technologists working together to find ways to improve the competitiveness of smallholder milk production in Switzerland. It was a practice-oriented project and it showed me the strength of interdisciplinary approaches. For me personally it was an important experience how to lead experts - my main task today.

What was a work-related failure you can remember and what did you learn from it?

One day, when I was head of teaching at HAFL, a student's father called me with questions about exchange students returning from countries where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) had been reported. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for this call and answered spontaneously - not knowing that this father was a political candidate who was preparing for an interview. The next day, everyone could read in the newspaper how much they were committed to protecting Swiss agriculture from FMD, while the head of the HAFL apprenticeship (me!) had no idea how to control the danger of exchange students returning from infected areas. My learning was obvious: be careful when you spontaneously answer journalists (and politicians)! This kind of experience has helped me to develop my communication skills, especially communication in difficult situations - an important skill for a person in a leadership position.


What are the three most important qualities a woman needs to be successful in science?

In general, the same characteristics are important for both men and women. However, since women are still a minority in many positions, expectations tend to be higher than for men. 

  • For me, the most important success factor is the willingness to get fully involved and take certain risks.

  • In order to receive research grants and convince research partners, communication skills are important, i.e. the ability to address and convince different target groups (scientists, companies, the public).

  • The third important characteristic is the ability to work in a team. Although competition also counts in research, I have found that in the long run the ability to work in a team promises much more success than pure competition.

What is your advice to women and girls who aspire to a career in science?

Do not make compromises too soon. If you have the opportunity to do a PhD, do it - although it might be a challenge to combine it with a family. Leave your comfortzone - stand out from the crowd. Try not to be mainstream, but find out where your true interests and strengths lie. And all this without compromising team qualities. If you're looking for a job, don't just focus on the best universities, you can also find your chance in a smaller place and make a difference.