BMS News: W3 Professorship for Dr. Laura Hartmann

Dr. Laura Hartmann becomes a full professor of Preparative Polymer Chemistry at the University of Düsseldorf

laura hartmann, sugar polymers, glyco polymers, university of düsseldorf

Prof. Hartmann surrounded by her colleagues on the day of her habilitation at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces.

Prof. Hartmann´s expertise lies in design and synthesis of sugar-polymers on immobilized surface. This artificial, sequence- and structure defined sugar macromolecules have an enormous potential in biomedicine: they are used as building blocks for creation of various new classes of biomolecules. In basic research these biomolecules may be used for deciphering the role of sugar in cell signaling and immune response. In pharmacology and medicine, their potential is explored for targeted drug delivery (glycomimetics), as a new class of drugs, in tissue engineering (sugar hydrogels as tissue scaffolds) or as biosensors.

Until receiving a full professorship at the University of Düsseldorf, Prof. Hartmann was Emmy Noether junior research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Dpt. of Biomolecular Systems in Potsdam-Golm. She received her postdoctoral training at the Stanford University in the groups of Prof. Dr. C. Frank (Chemical Engineering) and Prof. Dr. C. Ta (School of Medicine). Her recent success includes endorsement of the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation (“Plus 3” Programme), the Young Investigator Prize of the Expert Group Macromolecular Chemistry of the German Chemical Society and several publications in high-ranking journals (Pussak et al. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013 and Ponader et al. JACS 2014). Prof. Hartmann´s self-published book: The Glycopolymer Code will be out later in 2014.

For BMS Blog Prof. Hartmann opened up about the challenges and opportunities of an upward science career.

1. You are about to take on a full professorship at the University of Düsseldorf after spending last five years as Emmy Noether Fellow at the MPI-KG BMS, in Berlin. How would you describe your research during that time? What was your starting point and what would be the biggest result you achieved?

The starting point for every new group leader is getting your lab up and running and getting some talented students to join your team. I was very lucky in that regard and I am deeply thankful to my first handful of students that helped me getting started. All of them have successfully finished their Ph.D. by now and have moved on to new challenges in industry and academia. As for the biggest result we have achieved – let’s say not everyone believed in my idea about combining peptide, sugar and polymer chemistry, but we have shown that our synthesis works and that we are able to get new insights into the complex interplay of sugar ligands, protein receptors and novel inhibitors hopefully further advancing the field of glycopolymers.

2. What drove you to the MPI-KG BMS at the first place?

I was fascinated by the complexity and biological importance of sugars and had this idea about combining solid phase polymer synthesis with sugar ligands. So the freshly founded BMS with Peter Seeberger at its front was the perfect place for me to learn all about sugars, their synthesis and various roles and applications.

3. How much did it help being an Emmy Noether Fellow?

It is such a wonderful program! The Emmy Noether fellowship enables you to really think about the research you always wanted to do and, potentially, would do for the rest of your life - it gives you the means to actually do it. I especially enjoyed networking with other Emmy Noether group leaders from all areas or research and the DFG support in developing our soft skills, such as personal and financial management.

4. Looking back, is there anything you would have changed in your career?

The best advice I got upon taking on my first leadership position was ‘There are plenty of mistakes you will make, so go ahead and try to make them as fast as possible, because then you are done and you can go on with the fun part.’ I try not to get too frustrated over mistakes and failures but learn from them and try again next time. So, no, I would not change a thing!

5. What will be the biggest change in your daily life when you assume the professorship?

Hard to say … It was a tremendous change in my daily life when my son was born but it worked out just fine – you have to stay flexible and know what your priorities are. So I am sure lots of things will change moving to Düsseldorf, but I will try to keep my priorities clear and organize my life accordingly. I will get a lot of additional support now through my secretary and the associates.

6. Do you see the fulfilment of your professional career as an educator or as an entrepreneur? Do you envision some specific and promising application of your research in the future?

That’s a big question and I am afraid I do not have the answer, not just yet. I feel like I am still in the developing phase, as an educator and researcher and, potentially, as an entrepreneur. All three roles have their appeal and all three are an important part of my everyday work, which is why I love my job so much – I don’t have to decide, I get to do it all!

7. You are also a mom. How do you combine family and daily job? Do you have any special advice or solution you are particularly holding to?

The biggest challenge is to not worry about work when you’re at home and the other way around. I want to enjoy the time with my son and not think about the next deadline, but I also want to enjoy working and not worry about my son’s well-being. The most important support is my family, especially my husband, and the possibility of having an optimal daily care such as Kindergarten.

8. Your successful career combined with your youth, your gender and your motherhood defies all the stereotypes of an academic environment. Is there any special set of skills you would like to empower other young women with?

Be more stubborn! Isn’t that a supposedly female trait anyway ?! And get yourself all the support you need, don’t wait for it to come to you. There are many networks, mentoring groups, coaching programs, potential new friends, colleagues and mentors out there. You will need them to support you with your decision making, to stay strong when things go wrong and to stay on track even if you may get scared on the way.