Ask me anything: Janina Moereke – ‘I wish I’d known how beneficial a healthy amount of self-doubt is’

Janina Moereke is a development engineer at Avancis in Munich, Germany, where she uses optical and electrical techniques to characterize and develop thin-film solar cells. With a PhD in semiconductor devices from the University of Bristol in the UK, she previously worked at United Monolithic Semiconductors in Ulm and was a post-doc at the CEA-Leti research institute in Grenoble, France.

Janina Moereke
Sunny outlook Janina Moereke helps to develop solar cells at Avancis in Munich (Courtesy: Janina Moereke)

What skills do you use every day in your job?

Understanding or learning different measurement techniques – and planning appropriate experiments for the questions I want to answer – are the main skills I use. I also need to present my ideas, my work and my results to colleagues, superiors and external partners. Semiconductor technology is a complex area and you only get good results by collaborating with others, which requires effective communication. I work with colleagues from many different countries and, although our common language is English, it helps to know other languages too, especially when communicating with technical staff, who often struggle with English. I also need to be familiar with various analytical tools and basic programming skills to analyse the huge amounts of data that our experiments produce.

What do you like best and least about your job?

I love the variety of my job. I work with many different techniques and am still learning about photovoltaic technology as I previously worked on different kinds of semiconductor devices. In fact, learning new stuff is great as it broadens my horizons and gives me new skills all the time. On the other hand, the number of meetings can get tedious. And although I enjoy interacting with colleagues – in fact, it’s vital for my work – getting interrupted can be frustrating, especially if I want to concentrate on a topic in depth.

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What do you know today that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?

I wish I’d known how beneficial a healthy amount of self-doubt is. I definitely struggled with insecurity when I started out, thinking that somebody clearly must have thought of this or that before me. Those doubts held me back and made me incredibly nervous whenever I was trying to make a step forward. I still often struggle with insecurity, but I now know how to deal with it – in fact, I consider it a strength. When you’re doing an experiment, many things can go wrong, even with a simple measurement – and your first answer is rarely the correct one. Going back over an analysis or a calculation and doubting the easy answer is a vital part of the process. My job is not just about reaching good answers, but about asking good questions. I wish I’d known back when I started that I was doing just fine.

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