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Dr Holger Willms

Current employer: IREKS GmbH, R&D department, Kulmbach, Germany

Previous position: DAAD postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Sally Brooker at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand (May 2009 – April 2010)

PhD: With Prof. Dr. Christian Ganter, Institut für Anorganische Chemie und Strukturchemie , Abteilung für metallorganische Chemie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany (completed 2009)

Holger at Arthurs Point, near Queenstown and to the road up to Coronet Peak.

A few months before my doctoral examination I decided to spend a year abroad to gain some international experience in an English speaking country and to get a more objective view of my home country. As Great Britain seemed far too close to fulfil my expectation of something new and unknown my choice fell on New Zealand, a country on the other side of the world, the furthest point I could reach on this planet. Dr. Udo Beckmann, a habilitant in our institute, had been a postdoc in Sally’s group before and with this connection it was not hard at all to establish a contact to New Zealand. Sally agreed instantly to support my application for a scholarship and a couple of months later I was informed that our research proposal had convinced the DAAD referees. Backed by a strong scholarship there was no question whether to leave or not, even though it felt strange to leave my family, my friends and my girlfriend for at least one year. And who could predict what would happen afterwards? New Zealand’s image in Germany is almost that of a paradise where everyone wishes to go once in his lifetime and I would not be the first German to stay there forever.

With Sally’s help I found a warm (!!) and cosy accommodation close to the university. Abbey College hosts open minded postgraduate students from all over the world and although it does not want to be called a hotel it offers many hotel-like services. So I did not have to bother doing housework and organising all the usual stuff caused by a move but could focus on making friends and getting started with my research project.

Sally’s open door policy is well known and together with the help of her PhD students and other postdocs it was not difficult to get used to new techniques and another field of chemistry. The atmosphere in her international work group is excellent and there was always time for a chat and laughter in our office or somewhere else in the chemistry department. The tearoom with Trish’s yummy scones and cookies is a unique feature and another great place to meet new people. When you are new in town there is no question that cannot be answered here by one of the friendly Kiwis or foreign PhD or postdoctoral students who have already settled in.

Dunedin is well known to be a perfect starting point for trips to most places on the southern South Island like the nearby Otago Peninsula, the Catlins, Stewart Island, the Southern Alps with Mount Cook, Fjordland and the scenic lakes, Westland, Queensland and Christchurch. I used almost every weekend to take my car and discover new places and after a final one month trip around both Islands I have probably seen more of New Zealand than of Germany.

Wonderful landscapes of all kinds and endless space are probably what people from all over the world would associate with NZ at first. But down in Dunedin it did not take long to get involved in exciting history and of course world class research. Having been a part of the Brooker Bunch is certainly valuable for a career in academics or industry as Sally encourages her bunch to work together, to pitch in for the group, to participate in conferences, to focus on results and to tweak your CV. My year in New Zealand was full of unforgettable impressions and amazing trips and at the same time helped form a solid base for the subsequent phases of my life. Without a doubt I will return one day to visit the country’s most stunning places and to see these likeable Kiwis again.