Benefits from sitting in-between chairs: Felix Benn (ESR 5)

Two years ago, the BioImplant ITN project started and with that a new chapter in my life. The program’s structure foresees for every PhD candidate a home university as well as a home industry partner. Each home basis lays within the European Union but lays in different countries. While it was first of all extremely exciting to have the possibility to approach a novel and quickly developing research topic (in my case the additive manufacturing of biodegradable metal Magnesium for orthopaedic implant application) from both sides, the industry and academic side, there were also some concerns about how to combine both perspectives and do not end up in-between chairs. The final goal of the program for every ESR (Early Stage Researcher) is to successfully submit her/his (in our case of women to men 9:3 we could simply say her) thesis. While industry is naturally relatively straight-forward and progress driven (“the last experiment did not work, let’s try the next one”), academic research means to deeper analyise all findings, reflect them within the current global research community and finally publish it. So, each chair is dedicated to one home basis, on the one side industry and on the other side academia. At the end of the project, I have to sit in the academic one, but could I profit from both along the way?

Queen’s University Belfast campus

My arrival at the industry partner in Aachen in Germany (Meotec GmbH) was shortly after the start of the project, already two years ago. From the very first second, I was deeply impressed by their knowledge and facilities for the production of medical Magnesium. Furthermore, the analytical capabilities from metallurgy to in-vitro setups were astonishing. One might not call Meotec a typical example of small-size company (30 employees), as its equipment is exceptional while it ranges from casting furnaces along the whole manufacturing process chain of extrusion and milling, including additive manufacturing to the packaging in a clean room. The company’s personal size leads to very short (and sympathetically) paths to the knowledge holders in each field. The combination of short paths with highly skilled knowledge holders and the excellent access to facilities made a skyrocketing start possible for me (also was the topic completely new to me).

Aachen city with cathedral and the city hall as well as the small mountain Lousberg.

On the other chair, the academic chair, I received close supervision from my two supervisors. We had exchanges on a regular basis (every two weeks rhythm), whether in-person and if not possible video calls (almost needless to say after the dramatic changes in the last year). The ongoing tracking of my progress from the academic side helped me to not lose track of that second chair.

So far, the two-chair system has helped me a lot to accelerate my research output and I could also learn many industry related topics on the side. With the last year already in progress, the shift will automatically point more and more at the final thesis – so it is good that I never left any of the two chairs and both are still warm and comfortable.

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