Stories

In the spotlight: Pascal Breuer: From lost student to Scientist

8 December 2021 | 4 minutes read

If you would have asked me 10 years ago where I would see myself right now, I would have told you: “absolutely no clue”. After  high school I didn’t have a plan and therefore found myself struggling through the large variety of options available. To give an idea: My first attempt was to become a pilot in the Royal Netherlands Air Force, next, “politiekundige” at the KLPD and eventually I went to study mathematics at the TU Delft. This rather huge switch compared to the first two was still without success, I quit within six months.

 

It’s fair to say studying chemistry was not my first choice. I learned I needed some combination of theory and practice to keep myself interested, so I ended up looking at HBO bachelors. During high school I always enjoyed chemistry. My teacher’s one-liner “my life expectancy has dropped significantly since I started practicing chemistry” might be a questionable source of motivation; the experiments resulting in that statement surely where not! So starting a bachelor HLO Chemistry seemed like a logical choice. At the end of the first year I was hinted by the education coordinator to sign up for ASTP. After the interview with Peter Schoenmakers I remember thinking I completely messed this up. Suddenly you find yourself sitting in front of a professor who starts an out loud thought process, which you desperately try to follow as young student with limited knowledge. Now I look back with a big smile, knowing how much that single moment has kickstarted my career. 

 

Where the amount of knowledge gathered throughout the variety of courses is very valuable and usable within a job, the best thing the COAST talent programs offer early on is a chance to build a network. I can’t stress enough that open positions generally will be filled by someone the hiring party knows. So go on and socialize with your peers, the presenters, conference attendees and others on your path. Will it be awkward at times? Sure. Are you the only one who finds it difficult to start such a conversation? Absolutely not, most people around you struggle with it. We’re scientists, we analyse, we overthink, it’s what we do. The trick is to find something that works for you: come up with a question regarding their presentation or simply compliment them on something they wear. Anything that breaks the ice can help you get the conversation started, even if it seems small and silly.

 

From experience I can tell networking helps. Talking with the presenter (Jan Blomberg) during the lunch break of an ASTP Saturday course resulted in my bachelor graduation internship at Shell TCA. Not only led this work to winning the first COAST Student Innovation Award, more importantly it gave me a lot of energy as I found joy in combining all kinds of technical aspects with chemical knowledge to tackle complex challenges. My master internship position at DSM was again a result from my network, where my knowledge provided a good fit with their challenges. I’m sure it helped in my PhD application as well. More recently, from the 10 job applications I submitted, Corbion, with whom I’d had a few orienting/networking talks, was the first to reply. If you had any doubt about the importance of a network…

 

Now 10 years have passed since I was a lost student and I find myself in the position where I’m the only scientist in the Global R&D department of an international biochemical company, Corbion. It still sounds slightly unreal. When I first signed up for the COAST talent programs, I had never imagined it would play such a big part in the way my career would unfold. Where the early fruits were related to the network part, the knowledge I gathered I currently use every day. It allows me to quickly level with others on their work, understand the challenges at play and to come up with a variety of solutions. Now I’m in an industry perspective and I can honestly say that COAST is great at being on top of new innovations. You truly do have an head start in tackling (future) challenges from industry. In the end this makes you a very valuable employee.

 

If I would have to give some advice to the current COAST students: Enjoy your time! Interact, be curious, ask loads of questions and find out what truly sparks your interest. Our field is incredibly wide, you can develop equipment or develop methods, specialize fully in one technique or have a broad orientation, dive into the data (big and small) to find answers to your questions or even build complete models to help others optimize their workflow or even guide whole factories. You can also act as the connecting person between all these different aspects, become a team leader and far more. Then there is also the different disciplines you can work in, food, pharma, medical, polymers, petrochemical, arts, basically everything has science involved at some part. Don’t be afraid to make a “wrong” decision, learn from it, change, and try again! Celebrate your own successes and those of the people around you, but also celebrate your failures! Wait, what? Yes, celebrate your failures! I would vow that the things you learn and the growth you go through related to this, are the most valuable aspect of the whole process.

 

 

To round up,  don’t worry if you feel lost at times, plenty of things will come your way. Try to enjoy all the different aspects and find out which of them spark your interest and give you energy. Thanks to COAST you will meet a lot of different people from a lot of different disciplines, and thus plenty of opportunities! To the COAST partners I can only say, thank you for investing in all of us and seeing the additional value we can bring to you. I’m very excited to further develop myself in this new role and look forward to seeing you all in the field! If you ever have any questions, requests or simply want to talk, send me a message and I’m happy  to discuss with you.

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