Hubertus Lohner studied process engineering and then completed his PhD within the Faculty of Production Engineering in Bremen. He now works for Airbus and is on the management board of the Center for Eco-efficient Materials & Technologies (ECOMAT).
Mr. Lohner, you came to Bremen to do a PhD. Why did you decide on Bremen?
My decision to go to Bremen in May 1997, was based on a lucrative offer. On the one hand, I was very interested in the research topic. On the other hand, there were financial reasons: the unparalleled advantage of Bremen was that the PhD came with a full-time position. As a native of Hamburg, I must admit that I initially looked down on Bremen. Today, I must say however, that Bremen is not much different to Hamburg. I especially enjoy the similarities in architecture and mentality. It is simply a little smaller. Back then, I moved to the Schwachhausen district and was able to easily walk home from the Viertel and ride my bicycle to university.
What was the start of your PhD like at the University of Bremen?
Back then, I had a position at the Foundation Institute for Materials Engineering (IWT), which is now the Leibniz Institute for Material Engineering. I initially started with a physics-oriented topic, which dealt with the modeling of scattered light effects. After half of the time had passed, I changed to an engineering sciences research topic. Said topic was the atomization of molten mineral material. Despite the fact that I had previously left Hamburg and gone to Berlin for my degree, each change was a challenge. You need about one year until you have settled in and are familiar with everything. I was part of a really great and positive working group and was welcomed right from the beginning.
What was your research about and what was your day-to-day life like?
My PhD project was based around a waste product of metal production: molten mineral materials, or rather slags, to be precise. In a facility, which was around five meters high, they were atomized in a hot gas atmosphere, which is how we were able to produce particles. I often used the long, intermediate waiting times for my PhD and wrote a great deal of it directly next to the facility. I began quite early with documenting it and writing because I rather work on something continually and regularly than have a great mountain of things in front of me at the end. That is how I had a sound basis for my PhD dissertation early on and was able to complete everything in time at the IWT.
Were there special pioneers or people who influenced your career?
Two things in particular influenced me during this time. Firstly, independent, scientific work that is learnt whilst doing a PhD. That shaped me immensely for my later job with Airbus. There is a big difference between coming straight from university and having already had this type of experience. Secondly, coincidences and contacts often play an important role. Thanks to my time at the IWT, I knew a colleague at Airbus who had completed her PhD one or two years prior to me. I sent her my documents and she forwarded them to her boss. By means of the speculative application, I found myself in a fitting application process and got the job.
You still have good connections to the University of Bremen. How did that come about?
I mainly still have contact because I have always worked in the field of research and development. That means that I continually have contact with the research institutes at the university, for example the IWT, Fraunhofer IFAM, bias, or ZARM. Due to my new job at ECOMAT, which I have had since 2013, one of my main tasks is in the field of cooperation. Thanks to this task I now have contact to the U Bremen Research Alliance (UBRA) and UniTransfer.
In your opinion, how have the university and studying changed in the last years?
I have the feeling that students do more and try out more today. Which is a good thing in my eyes. Seen from a company point of view, we want people and characters that have a certain level of experience, are settled, and have both feet on the ground. I also mean people who have a strong connection to their social surroundings and are not purely specialists in their field. Soft skills are essential for working life and you cannot learn these via a degree or internships, but mainly through other interests and activities.
“You should always go down the path that interests and enthuses you.”
With that in mind, do you have any tips for studying successfully?
You should always go down the path that interests and enthuses you. Based on my experience, you can apply nearly everything that you have learnt during your degree later in life. It does not always have to be linear. I think it is important to position yourself broadly and learn the fundamentals during your degree. You will sharpen your profile and delve deeper anyway during your later career or PhD. One last tip from me is to not let yourself, as a student or PhD student, be intimidated. It was always insinuated that the university is a protected and ideal world in comparison to large industries. But that is not what I have experienced – it is not that bad in the free economy.
Hubertus Lohner studied Production Engineering at the TU Berlin and the TU Graz. 2002 he completed his PhD at the University of Bremen.