Interview: Magdalena Marszalek
How and when did you join Zurich Instruments?
I joined Zurich Instruments in August 2019. I am a materials scientist from Poland, and I hold a master’s degree in materials engineering from Jagiellonian University in Krakow. This gave me a solid interdisciplinary background, as I took courses with physicists and chemists. I continued my scientific journey with doctoral studies in Lausanne, and received my PhD in chemistry and chemical engineering from EPFL in Prof. Grätzel’s group.
After my PhD, I worked as an expert on solar devices in a start-up based in Stockholm, Sweden, because I wanted to see my research going beyond the lab. Following that experience, I did a postdoc in the field of bio-photovoltaics at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which taught me how to communicate with researchers from different backgrounds (physics and biology). When I realized that I missed Switzerland, I came back for a postdoc at the University of Zurich on water-splitting devices followed by industry experience with another start-up, this time in Switzerland, where I felt I needed a bigger change in terms of science as well as a more established workplace.
I applied for an advertised position at Zurich Instruments without prior knowledge about the company. The website gave me the impression of a young, vital and yet already solid endeavor. I thought that this company was transforming ‘ancient’ devices I remembered from my time in the lab to digital instruments full of functionalities, ready for 21st-century users.
What does your job look like, and what is the most important aspect of it?
I am the first contact person for customers: I reply to their inquiries and support questions. I believe my interdisciplinary background helps me to assess the general idea of a project or an application, but I will often discuss more technical responses with our application scientists. I am also involved in some marketing projects. It is great to interact with customers from all around the world: I like to adjust my communication style and language to be closer to the customers and understand the circumstances they are in.
The biggest challenge is that you need to learn quickly about the applications of our customers, who come from many different research fields. What motivates me the most in my job is that I help people! I am very happy that I can support scientists in pursuing their research ideas. I still feel that I am close to academia, but I don’t need to experience some of its drawbacks (such as the job insecurity and the 'post-doc carousel').
What is the most memorable Zurich Instruments moment that stayed with you?
One day, a scientist from Canada asked for equipment to help him measure and analyse the spectra from exoplanets. I was very intrigued when I talked to him; a few weeks later, it was great to see that he purchased one MFLI Lock-in Amplifier. On the same day of the call from Canada, a PhD student from the Netherlands asked about another one of our products: he works on microfluidics and wants to count cells in microchannels. Do you see how the scale of projects you encounter varies within a day? You cannot be bored here! I was also amazed by how quickly Zurich Instruments switched to ‘COVID-19 mode’ - with a fully operational home office, great communication, and the replacement of physical meetings with webinars.
How do you spend your free time?
I am a classical pianist and I spend a lot of time with my piano - music is a very important part of my life. I also like to spend time with my friends playing board games and card games: the small ones we even take for hikes so that we can play on alpine meadows. Before I injured my knee I also did crossfit. This activity really shaped me mentally, because I had military coaches who taught me that if something needs to be done there are no excuses.