1. Do you remember commencing your studies? What was your first impression of Leipzig University?

That was a long time ago, nine years to be precise. I remember very well how everything was well organised and easy to access. Also, the great support from Professor Stefan Berger (programme coordinator) and his secretary Mrs Uta Zeller was indispensable for getting started properly on the Structural Chemistry and Spectroscopy master’s programme. The multicultural environment at Leipzig University was another beneficial factor. On the other hand, the modules and the teaching technique were completely different in comparison with Damascus University, which made adjusting to Leipzig University slightly difficult for me. Furthermore, my arrival in Leipzig was during the winter semester, when the weather was extremely cold – which I was not used to.  

2. Looking back, how would you sum up your studies?

My period studying at Leipzig University, on the master’s programme and then during my PhD studies at the Institute of Chemical Technology under the supervision of Professor Roger Gläser, was simply the best period of my life. It was just fantastic.

3. Did you ever doubt your choice of degree course? If so, how did you overcome this?

Never, neither during the master’s nor as a doctoral researcher.

4. What motivated you to choose your specific degree course or career?

To be honest, I have always been inspired by the careers of my uncles Dr Mahmoud Al-Naji and Dr Omar Al-Naji, both of whom are professors of chemistry. The difficult decision was to quit my professional career as a horse rider (show jumping), where I competed at the highest level (Olympic Games qualifications) and put all my effort and energy into obtaining the master’s and PhD degree in chemistry, which has changed my life.     

5. What have been the key stages in your career?

There were two moments which I consider to have been key stages in my career. The first was when Professor Roger Gläser offered me a PhD position in his research group, which allowed me to grow as a scientist and ultimately put me in touch with Professor Bert Sels from KU Leuven, who gave me the chance to be a postdoctoral fellow in his research group at KU Leuven. The second was the moment when Professor Markus Antonietti asked me to join his research group at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces as a Biorefinery and Sustainable Chemistry group leader.  

6. To what extent did your studies determine your current professional position? Is there a link between your studies and your job? Do you still use knowledge gained during your studies?

The position where I am right now is a natural progression and evolution of my study path, where you develop from being a master’s student to a PhD student, then become a postdoctoral researcher and finally a group leader. Also, the knowledge I gained during my master’s and PhD at Leipzig University formed the strong basis of my everyday work at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces.

7. Can you describe a typical working day in your current position?

I typically start the day with a coffee and a wonderful chat about different topics with Professor Markus Antonietti and my office mates (Dr Valerio Molinari and Baris Kumru). Afterwards, I check and reply to my emails. Later on I visit the individual PhD students in their offices or laboratories, asking about how their research is progressing. After lunch, I also go to my own lab and conduct the experiments I’ve planned for my personal research project. Finally, I end my working day by reading any new emails and replying to as many as possible.   

8. What are the three most important skills for your daily work?

Teamwork, communication and a willingness to learn. 

9. In your opinion, what is the best way to start a career in your industry (entry routes, application tips etc.)?

Knowing what you want to do after finishing your studies is key for your future job. Also, believe in yourself and your skills. Additionally, use the network that you build while studying. Search thoroughly online for a job that you will be passionate about, and you will definitely find more than one job which you like. Finally, love the work that you do.

10. What advice would you give to new students today?

Choose the field of study that you enjoy the most. Think out of your comfort zone, build a network of friends and be social, learn as many foreign languages as possible and finally, remember to enjoy student life in Leipzig to the extreme!


Personal details

  • Last name, first name: Al-Naji, Majd
  • The year you were born: 24.10.1984
  • Degree programme: the international master’s programme is called Structural Chemistry and Spectroscopy and hosted by the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy; PhD from the Institute of Chemical Technology at the same faculty under the supervision of Professor Roger Gläser
  • The year you enrolled: WS/2010-11
  • The year you left Leipzig University: WS/2017-18
  • Current employer/position: Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces with Professor Markus Antonietti; Biorefinery and Sustainable Chemistry group leader.

Interviewstand: Dezember 2019