Research Associate - Ecology

Martina Maria Burtscher

Job title:
Post Doctoral Research Associate

Environmental Research Institute

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be in the job you are currently in?

After studying technical chemistry I didn’t want to pursue the usual career of a chemical engineer. I was more interested in applying my knowledge to biological systems. Therefore I did a PhD in biochemistry/gene technology – looking at classic microbiological hygiene indicator parameters and how you could make them more precise/efficient using available molecular biological techniques. This project was very interesting and finally led into a big source tracking project – hopefully improving the water quality of the city I was working in.

What attracted you to this area of work?

After a PhD you always have to decide “what next?” – and I decided to go even further into ecology – investigating microbial communities of peat bogs and, remaining in aquatic ecology – looking at bacterioplankton communities in Scottish lochs.

The attraction of this area of work is that you never stop learning and exploring new things. You are confronted with new questions and problems every day and you have to solve them! This is very exciting!

I like the idea that I can contribute to the understanding of very complex biological systems – helping stakeholders to make better (knowledge based decisions) on these very important environments. Therefore I hope that my work helps to protect and maintain these unique ecosystems.

In what ways were you encouraged or discouraged to pursue your chosen career? Please explain further.

Talking to other women in science I was always encouraged to do what I was interested in. They gave me good advice. The only people discouraging me were the ones who didn’t know anything about chemistry.

My parents were a bit scared and hesitant at the beginning, but when they saw how much I liked what I did, they fully supported me.

Did you encounter any barriers trying to pursue your chosen career along the way?

Sometimes it is difficult to enter those man dominated circles – especially if you study at university where most of the professors are old men. But fortunately most of them are retired nowadays.

What subjects did you study at school/college/university?

Language based grammar school (Latin, French, English) in Austria. Chemical engineering at university.

What attracted you to taking those subjects?

I was always interested in Maths/Physics and Chemistry. Although I was not bad in the other subjects, these were the ones that made fun. It felt like tickling my mind ?.

What advice would you give to other girls and young women who are thinking of pursuing the same career as you?

First of all: do what you are interested in. Never give up, even when people tell you that this is too difficult etc.

There is nothing worse than being in a job that you are not interested in!

Money can be an issue sometimes, and in science/research if you don’t go to a company the salaries are not that high. So if you are looking for money, try to go to industry right after your master or PhD.

Finally, in general why do you think less girls and young women study science, engineering and technology subjects?

Because it is not one of typical jobs a woman would do – like hair dresser etc.? Sometimes girls don’t even think about going along that route or are just not encouraged to do so.

 Research Associate - Ecology