Rebekka, Germany

10 Questions with Rebekka Garreis

Rebekka from Germany is a PhD student at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

The team Rebekka is working in investigates electrostatically defined nano structures in bilayer graphene, where she works on quantum dots with a neighboring charge detector. Graphene is a promising material to host spin qubits because it is expected to have long spin coherence times. The charge detector can be used to perform real-time measurements on electrons tunneling through the quantum dots, to get an insight into the spin-orbit and hyperfine interaction, a perquisite to build and control spin qubits.

Rebekka will participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Enjoy the interview with Rebekka and get inspired:

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

Growing up with a mother as chemist and a father as physicist I do not think I had another chance but to fall in love with science. Please, do not understand me wrong, my parents never pushed me in one direction, on the contrary, I was encouraged to find my own path. However, the way a parent answers the questions of a child on how the world works influences the perspective on its surroundings of the person that child grows up to be. I remember that once right before Christmas I asked my mother if she ever tested that the advent crown really burns as easily as everybody thinks since it is made of fir branches. Instead of telling her daughter how stupid that idea might be, she told me to not test it inside the house but rather outside on the stone terrace, where I would be able to control the fire. Throughout my childhood my parents always encouraged me to (safely) do my own research.
I do not remember an exact moment when I finally decided that I wanted to study physics, but I know that besides my parents also my high school teachers had an impact on that decision.

  1. Who are your role models?

One might have guessed from my answer to the previous question that my main role models are my parents. They always supported me and my ideas and strengthened me to grow beyond myself. During my undergraduate studies Prof. Thomas Dekorsy became another role model. Even though I only attended single lectures of him I admired his way of interacting with the students. His personality and kindness are inspiring, motivating and encouraging. If I become a professor, I would hope to have a similar effect on my students as he had on me.

  1. How did you get to where you are in your career path?

In high school I had really motivated, good and fun physics and math teachers. Especially during the last two years I was really fascinated by the topics the courses had to offer. In the fall of 2012, I entered the University of Konstanz in south Germany. It was very important to me to be able to spend some time abroad and I am thankful that the physics department supports its students to write their bachelor’s thesis abroad. I spent five months in the laboratory of Prof. John Page at the University of Manitoba in the middle of nowhere in Winnipeg. I worked on the localization of ultrasonic wave in a mesoglass. Even though my samples where on a decimeter scale I discovered my enthusiasm for nanophysics. The choices for my master courses back at the University of Konstanz represent that interest. With my master thesis in the group of Prof. Elke Scheer I further pursued that interest and investigated the magnetoresistance through superconducting aluminum nano structures. Prof. Elke Scheer is a strong and intelligent female professor and I admire her ability to be all a good professor, supervisor and mother. She was also the one who encouraged me to apply for a PhD position at ETH in the group of Prof. Klaus Ensslin and Prof. Thomas Ihn where I still enjoy the investigation of electronic transport through nanostructures in a great working atmosphere and group.

  1. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I think the project I am now working on is pretty cool. Although when I try to explain it to a non-physicist, they usually don’t understand why it is that cool, but I guess the big smile on my face convinces them anyways.

  1. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

After finishing my master’s degree, I was awarded the VEUK award of the alumni association of the University of Konstanz. The key selection criteria are academic excellence as well as personal and social commitment. Together with the award certificate I received a personal note from the VEUK team. This note made me really proud since it showed me that I did not only finish my masters with an excellent degree, but also had a positive impact on people while working and participating in the physics student association and several committees on the departments and university level.

  1. What is a “day in the life” of Rebekka like?

Especially in summer I like to get up early. After breakfast with my roommates I enjoy the bike ride through the forest to my university. Most of the days I use that time to clear my thoughts and plan my day. The things I do at the office or in the lab change every day, which is one of the reasons for my work to be so interesting. I either go to the clean room for sample fabrication, spend some time in the lab for measurements or sit in the office to plan my next steps or do some analysis. During the semester, I also invest some time in teaching. It is nice to watch when the students adapt some of my passion for physics. No matter what I have planned for the day I always try to have lunch with my group. The bike ride home gives me a chance to relax and think about dinner. Although, sometimes I also spend it hoping that no deer jumps in front of my bike.

  1. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

The answer to that question changes rather often, depending on the person I am talking with. However, the most important goal for me is to stay true to myself and always be passionate about my work. I want to combine my career – wherever it might lead me – with healthy social contacts, friendships and my family. I want to be able to raise my own children as supporting and loving as my parents raised me.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I would describe myself as a very social person. I like to spend time with friends, cook together or to sit down for a beer. I also like to bake, it helps me to relax or to handle emotionally challenging situations. Once or twice a week, I also like to go for a run.

  1. What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

I think it is important to be proud of yourself and what you have achieved. Go your own way and never lose the smile on your face.

  1. In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?

In general, I do not think that one can foresee the next breakthrough because I think a little bit of luck plays a role as well. However, a lot of research aims towards dealing with the climate change and I hope that all these efforts and resources lead to a breakthrough in science, especially regarding renewable energy, energy storage or transportation, which will then have a direct impact on societies all over the world.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I think the biggest impact to increase the number of female scientists can be achieved in schools. The teacher’s ability to also motivate his or her female students for physics or science is ground-breaking for their career choices. I supervised a couple of summer camps for female high school students during their holidays at explorhino at the University of Aalen and it is amazing how much fun a group of girls can have building and programming robots, demounting a car engine or casting aluminum figures. I might need to mention that at the similar camp for boys they synthesized nail polish removal with much enthusiasm.

I also think that we still need more improvements and information distribution for the possibilities to combine a career in research with a family.

Photo Credits: (1) Claudia Vinzens, (2) Annika Kurzmann, (3) Annika Kurzmann

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