»Go for it! Give it a try!«

Interview Johanna Heidrich, PhD student in the department »Transport Processes«

At the Fall School 2023, Johanna Heidrich gave a detailed account of her everyday work and her math career so far to the scholarship holders in the context of the lecture series »Study, PhD, Work at the University and at Fraunhofer ITWM«.

Her talk was titled »District Heating, Fiber Spinning, and Electrolytic Cells – from Mathematics Studies to Applications«, because the 27-year-old PhD student has a lot to tell – be it about her PhD, which she has been working on since summer 2021, or her path as a former Felix Klein scholarship holder. We took the opportunity to interview her:

How did you end up at the Fraunhofer ITWM? Are you originally from Kaiserslautern?

No, I moved here for my studies. My first contact with Fraunhofer ITWM was the Felix Klein Fellowship, then I did an internship here at Fraunhofer ITWM during my bachelor's degree, and then, after my master's degree with a minor in physics, I decided to do my PhD at the institute.


How has the Felix Klein Fellowship helped you in your career so far?

In addition to the financial and non-material support in the studies themselves, I was especially helped by the network that comes with the scholarship. During the career orientation, my mentor Christian Leithäuser made me aware of various opportunities at the institute in the application field »energy« and established contacts. I also applied elsewhere, but the opportunity at Fraunhofer ITWM in the district heating focus simply interested me the most.

Johanna Heidrich im Interview
© Fraunhofer ITWM
Johanna Heidrich during the interview

As a scholarship holder, you must have taken part in the Autumn Week yourself several times, how did you experience these weeks?

Yes, a few even, in the five years of funding. In any case, exciting modeling questions were always dealt with and insights were given into how the mathematics that you are learning at the university can really be applied. Of course, the contacts to the other scholarship holders were also valuable, because it is always a colorful mixture over the semesters and the groups always consist of committed people.

Final Presentation Group District Heating
© Fraunhofer ITWM
Last year, Johanna Heidrich was also the supervisor of one of the groups in the Felix Klein autumn school. Of course, the teamwork also involved a problem from the project work on district heating.

You have now been a doctoral student at the institute for two years. What do you like best about your work at Fraunhofer?

I'm just excited about my subject area, because heat supply – and district heating in particular – are super relevant topics right now and I've always dreamed of being able to contribute to the energy transition with my work. The fact that this is already possible in such a concrete way during my doctoral studies simply makes me happy. And what I also really like is the good teamwork with the colleagues in my group.

Why don't you tell us more about the projects you are currently working on?

Since my doctorate is in the field of »Digitization of District Heating«, I am also working on the district heating projects in my department. This involves modeling real heating networks and dynamically simulating their condition. This is then used to create digital twins of the networks, which provide support for challenges such as decarbonization, optimal operation and expansion of the networks.

What was your talk at the Fall School about?

First I talked about my career, what considerations I had made, for example, on topics such as final theses, stays abroad or career orientation. And then I reported on my doctoral studies to date, the projects on district heating in our department and my doctoral thesis topic. I also gave an insight into what else is being worked on in my department »Transport Processes«.

What advice would you give to current scholarship holders?

When I look back now, it has paid off in the application to listen to lectures with a wide range of topics and to get a good overview of the methodological fields. Because the questions from the application are not always based on what you are specialized in.

In addition, it was very worthwhile for me to discuss my career orientation with my mentor in good time before graduation, which I can only recommend.

That all sounds like a full professional life. What do you do in your free time?

I like to spend time with friends, my shared apartment and my godchildren there, and play tennis in the club. I've also always been particularly interested in my political commitment. In recent years, I've been active in an uncommercial free space in the city for political and cultural activities.


What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career in mathematics?

I don't feel at all in a position to give advice yet, but as far as studies and scholarships are concerned, all I can say is: Go for it! Give it a try! You will quickly realize in your studies whether mathematics suits you.