Communication for the Max Planck Institute
Our PR office about their work, the challenges and what they love about their job
Katharina Link and Maren Berghoff take care of Communications at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing. They are the ones who write press releases, plan events and present our institute and our research to the public, also on social media. We talked to them to find out more about their daily work and their biggest successes.
Katharina and Maren, why did you decide to pursue a career in PR? Was there a specific impetus or were you always passionate about communication?
Katharina: Well, I guess, (at the expense of my teachers) communication was always a passion of mine. Additionally, I developed a fascination for design and photography early on, which ultimately led me to my dream job. (Sounds cheesy but it’s true.)
Maren: I used to want to be a science journalist. But after school I decided to study biology because I just find biology with all its facets so fascinating. When I realized during my PhD that lab work was not for me and that I prefer talking and writing about science than doing research myself, I started looking for jobs in science communication.
Do you both have a background in science?
Katharina: I did my A-levels in Biology and Arts. So, I was facing the decision to go into science or art. Back then I was joking: I should be a scientific illustrator. Many years later I couldn’t be closer. I made my Bachelor in Digital Media in Canterbury. Afterwards I worked in a media agency and as a Freelancer. As much as I loved what I did, I was looking for more consistency in my profession. Which led me to apply here for a training job in the administration. Coincidentally, the institute was looking for a person with my expertise for the PR team at the same time. After meeting up with my soon-to-be Boss Gabriella Lundkvist and colleague Maren I seized the opportunity and I couldn't be happier with that decision.
Maren: I studied Biology at the University of Bonn and did my PhD in Cell Biology at the ZMBH in Heidelberg. My recruitment is also an interesting story. I started at the MPI as an intern while the institute was looking for a PR executive. None of the applicants was a good fit – so I had the chance to present my previous work as an intern and got the job! I then studied communications management for a year alongside my job and continued my education in this field. So, I have both: a scientific background and expertise in communication.
Do you remember your first day at work in the institute?
Maren: I don't remember every detail, but I do remember how friendly my colleagues and also my supervisor Gabriella welcomed me here at the Institute. In the beginning, everything was fascinating for me because, as I said, this position was my first step into science communication. The first call from journalists, the first press release, that was incredibly exciting! Now, of course, a lot of things are routine, but there are always new exciting tasks.
Katharina: My first week was carnival 2016 and therefore I had the rare opportunity to meet the entire staff in a VERY casual atmosphere right from the beginning.
What is your favorite thing about your job? (Conversely, is there something that you strongly dislike about it?)
Katharina: I love the fact that I can bring all my potential into a bright spectrum of projects and grow further with each one of them. But this wouldn’t be possible without our team. We complement each other with our strengths, which is essential for a job with daily changing challenges.
Maren: I can only fully agree with Katharina. The teamwork is really one of the best aspects of my job here. I also particularly enjoy "translating". I don't mean translating between different languages, but making scientific content understandable for lay people. Sometimes the job can be very demanding, though: If an editorial office calls in the morning and wants to interview a staff member of the Institute by noon, you have to throw all your plans for that day overboard and try to find someone for the interview very quickly.
Is there an achievement during your time at the institute that you are most proud of?
Katharina: Planning successfully the first open day was an amazing experience. This was a huge day and not possible without the passioned volunteers from each lab and department. Even the sun was shining and made this beautiful experience and kick-off for further events. Our latest videos are another big project where we learned a lot and with the help of many open-minded, brave volunteers (and patient tolerating staff) we could create something long lasting that many people are proud of.
Maren: I am generally very proud of how the press and public relations work here at the Institute has developed since Katharina and I have been here. Our Institute has become much more visible. Also, for me, the videos we made together with our intern Paula are definitely a highlight as well. Filming with the people here was just a lot of fun.
Focusing on science alone can be draining. What is something you like to do in your free time to help you relax and give you inspiration?
Maren: I have my two children, who help me a lot to not always think about work. Otherwise, the best way for me to relax is to go running or hiking. I grew up in the country, right next to the forest - I guess that's still in me.
Katharina: My dog helps me to get the movement and fresh air my office head needs. I have the best ideas during my dog walks, so technically I don’t stop working. And until my cats moved in, I probably didn’t even know what relaxation is. Since you're not allowed to wake up a cute sleeping cat lying on your lap, I can even finish a book now and then.
How has your work changed during the pandemic/in recent years? How do you see it changing in the coming years?
Katharina: Almost all of my tasks I can do remotely. As I still had my work set up from my freelance time, this was not a huge change for me. I hope that I can keep working 50% of my time at home as I see the benefits in my productivity and within my work-life-balance. The only thing that changed in our work field, was the shift to virtual Events. However, with this change we also saw the opportunity to open up some of these events to a wider range of interested people worldwide. However, we are also very much looking forward to organising local events again and getting in touch with the Cologne community.
Maren: I find that many parts of my job also work well when I work remotely. However, I am also very happy to be back at the institute more often, because I find it very important to stay in contact with the researchers. Sometimes you just meet by chance at the coffee machine and chat and there's already a new idea for an article or project.
What would you recommend to people who are looking to go into PR and science communication?
Maren: If you really want to go into science communication, you should get experience in this field as early as possible. There are so many ways to do that: participate in one of the events, write texts for the website, etc. The easiest way is to talk to your press department and ask what you can do. And to the people in our institute: we are always happy when you contact us. We have so many projects you can help with!
Katharina: Ask questions and stay curious. And get used to the queasy feeling when you start something new - because we grow with every task.
A contribution by Jonas Goergens