“My major motivation for studying chemistry and continuing to do academic research is my desire to help society live more sustainably. My parents aren’t scientists but my dad influenced me indirectly because he said he didn’t want to influence my career decisions. He wanted me to have full control of what I was going to do with my life, so I felt free to deviate from my parents’ career choices.”
In Germany, it’s common for school pupils to take a gap year between the equivalent of GCSEs and A-levels, and while Agi didn’t take the full year out, she did spend a summer in Australia with a couple who were both working in academia.
“Heidi, who’s now a close friend, was a physicist and she had four children and was working as an academic, living abroad, so I think that was definitely a huge inspiration for me. Although there was almost a generational difference in age, we really understood each well, we still do today.”
Building business experience
Agi moved to the UK for her PhD and postdoctoral research at Imperial College London but eventually funding for her project ran out. Another academic in the department offered her a position as a business manager for their new start-up company and Agi became the company’s first official employee.
“I was hired for my experience working with patents – I had filed a patent before so I knew roughly how that all worked – and they also liked the fact that I was bilingual in English and German, because two of their main competitors were BASF and Baeyer, and they tend to file their patents initially in German.”
While Agi gained some valuable experience at the company it wasn’t all smooth sailing, so when funding became available for her to return to the research project she had begun for her PhD, Agi decided to return to academia.
“I experienced the gender pay-gap in action when I realised that two male colleagues with similar experience and key roles were getting a major pay-rise and I wasn’t. I felt running the commercial side almost completely on my own for a year meant I was a key worker. When I resigned shortly after, the company offered me a pay-rise in order to retain me but I declined, because I had made up my mind to return to academia, but I also felt the trust had been broken.
“I decided that having the chance to develop my PhD project further outweighed the interesting things that I would learn with the start-up company. And there was also the possibility of a start-up company for that project, as well. So I would get that experience anyway just with a few years delay.”