Scientist Couples

March 3rd, 2023

Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing information about pandemics, pathogens, infectious diseases and further important topics.

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Dear readers,

Today’s topic is coming from a recent article in Nature that deals with scientist couples. Several such couples were interviewed on how their lives and careers were looking when working and living together.

We agree with the interviewed, we also were interviewed in 2009 and 2010. The links you may find here:

Life as a scientist is different anyhow since you made your hobby your profession. It keeps you busy 24/7. This of course is easier if both partners share the attitude. No one needs to back off. You share more than other couples. You just have to take care not to end up in one single career instead of two. This, many research organizations are trying to attain. One head of administration actually had told us, one salary should be enough for the two of us. Note: For two full-time employments each of which covered way more than the usual 40 hours per week. We always made a point of the two of us working at eye level, with equal salary. We managed to get this but only after tough negotiations.

Our research areas are complementing one another, while we both have our own areas of expertise. We had the choice to found two laboratories, but we did not want to put our research groups into competition within one institution. As a result, we started a bigger lab together. Our independence came from the competitive third-party funding we were able to obtain.

So, how is our life? In the meantime, we are heading our own company. Our exchange is starting during breakfast already, while having a cup of tea. We talk about the daily business. And we like to discuss, mostly during weekends, about topics that are moving us. This of course includes our area of expertise, infectious diseases, to which publications are coming in on a daily basis. Other topics include the climate catastrophe, species extinction, and the reluctance of both politics and society to change this.

Just today we spoke about an article published in Science in February describing a dramatic development in the oceans which unfortunately is being duly ignored by the public (and the German media). It concerns the dramatic spread of de-oxygenation of ocean water. There, no life that needs oxygen, is possible. As a result, these are by and large dead areas. Such areas are covering the African West coast as well as the West coasts of Latin and South America. Somewhat closer to us, the Baltic Sea is also affected.

This not only has influence on marine diversity but will have ramifications for fishery and the food supply. The current program of Harald Lesch is dealing with the beginning of a species extinction. We respect Harald Lesch very much, but here he is wrong: The global species extinction is in full swing already.

Now back to our daily kick-off at the breakfast table: Jörg is enjoying a cup of tea with a drop of milk, while Sabine prefers a 50:50 ratio of tea vs. milk.

One advantage of working closely together is travelling together to conferences for presentations. This is the difference to people in German public institutions where usually the partner is an “accompanying person” travelling on tax payers’ money. Just recently a big German research organization came into disrepute for doing this on a regular basis. This was known for a while but only now was made public.

We always had the backbone to decline lucrative projects, if the people involved made an impression of being corrupt. The principle of “pecunia non olet” to us is plain wrong. This comes with disadvantages, which we accepted. As a couple you are simply stronger.

The toughest critic to us is our partner. Thus, we have an internal quality control regarding values and quality of research.

Our mutual openness is based on trust. There is no competition but a close bond, you are dedicated to each other. This does not mean to only focus on the partner and to shy away from contacts and cooperations.

We not just work together we share a common life. Time shared for recreation sometimes is also used to discuss science. This does not count as work. A discussion during a hiking trip does boost pulse and blood pressure and thus helps us reach the summit.

To share life and work does include the household. We share the chores. This is the difference to couples where one is having a career while the other does the service for free in a dependence.

We are recovering in our garden, making music or enjoying a concert, and in the evening we like to cook regularly, especially since the start of the pandemic. Jörg loves to try new recipes by chefs from international food blogs.

Different paths led us to our field of activity. During his studies in his main subject, genetics, Jörg started in a research group that specialized on retroviruses. This was the spark igniting his interest in virology, specializing on molecular aspects. Meanwhile there have been added many other viruses. While researching HIV in the U.S., he added immunology to his main interests. Both are fascinating areas with a constant flow of new discoveries.

Sabine started to experiment while at elementary school. This included a prominent stain of potassium permanganate in dark purple in her room on a new, bright carpet. Her mom was not amused. During her studies she had to make a decision between molecular botany and genetics, since both areas were close to her family’s business, and both fascinated her. Her commitment started during school already. Sabine covered both subjects in parallel. By way of genetics, she also came to virology, and started working on dendritic cells. In the U.S., this opened many doors for her. This topic led her right into immunology, since this cell type is at the crossroads of innate and acquired immunity. Dendritic cells interact with every pathogen. There is no more to be said, it is obvious.

We had met in the lab, where we had worked together for a while already and realized we made a good team.

We always believed in the future, we always went ahead, and gave development a chance. Standstill is not an option. Our history, the decisions we made brought many advantages. Of course, this included disadvantages and sacrifices, but the advantages more than make this up. In other words: To us, there was no other path.

It is a gift to be able to use one’s talents.

What may we tell young people? Always to be open, to seize opportunities and not to shy a risk now and then. But most of all, to stay true to the interests inspiring you. And of course, to see that you earn a living with the talents and interests you cherish. Finally, spend some years abroad.

We wish you all the luck that we had.

Moreover, nobody is perfect, however you should strive to make it better every single day. And if you don’t know how to proceed, ask the right people. It is a strength to ask for help and being able to take on help.

Our quality of life is filled with humor. Humor we have a lot, and this makes things a lot more pleasant. This does not mean that we don’t take anything seriously, because the opposite is the case. Important issues we take very seriously.

At last we want to comment on a German news channel, February 27th, 2023: Some of you may understand German. It means that advertisements for unhealthy kid-snacks should be prohibited.

Since we are no cannibals, we do not eat kid-snacks or the more chewy senior-plates offered by German restaurants. We stick to a colorful and healthy food mixture with some of everything.

We wish you all a good time and we dive back into science again. Stay healthy or have a speedy recovery and have fun every day!

Yours, Joerg and Sabine

Dr. Sabine Breun and Dr. Joerg Baumann, both PhDs, virologists, immunologists, molecular biologists and founders of SAJO. Both are specialized in infectious diseases. Since the 90s, Dr. Baumann has been working on zoonoses and how pathogens overcome the species barrier. Since 2000, Dr. Breun works on the interaction of viruses with the immune system. Both work as team. SAJO enables new antivirals – antivirals of the next generation to fight pandemics.
During their scientific carreers, both performed scientific work for 5 years at the National Cancer Institute in a US elite program on competitive US scholarships.

SAJO – for a healthy and better future!

SAJO is consulting all around infectious diseases. We are applying our know-how, that we have acquired in more than 20 years. We do what we can to fight this pandemic.

This is post No. 246. To our delight our blog is receiving a lot of readers, we love to share our know-how and expertise. Please feel free to share the link – it is an informative tool to fight this pandemic.

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