Meet our Alumni: an interview with Annabelle Bohrdt
Annabelle Bohrdt did her PhD in the group of Michael Knap at TUM. Since May 2021, she has been working as ITAMP postdoctoral fellow on a combination of machine learning, numerical methods and quantum simulation to study quantum many-body systems in and out of equilibrium. In this interview, Annabelle tells us about her current research and shares some nice memories and important things she learned during her time as doctoral student.
- What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think back on your time as doctoral student?
Spending time with my friends and fellow grad students, drinking coffee, talking about physics, academia, and everything else that’s going on. I also did work during my PhD though, it wasn’t all coffee breaks!
- How did you feel after finishing your PhD? Did you do something special to celebrate this important step?
I was very excited to finish my PhD and start a new chapter. Due to Covid, I didn’t have a large celebration, but instead a very small outdoor gathering in Garching with a few friends who were around, which was very nice. Before my defense, I wanted to focus on preparing for it, so I told my collaborators that I didn’t want any meetings. This somehow led to back to back zoom meetings lasting the entire day the day after my defense — I would not recommend this approach. We did go on a nice hike the day after that though.
- What were your initial career plans when you started your PhD?
I didn’t have very concrete plans, but was open to anything. I wanted to find out first whether research and everything that comes with it is what I really want to do long term.
- How did these plans evolve? What did you do after finishing your PhD and why did you choose this path?
I enjoyed my PhD very much and decided to stay in academia. After finishing my PhD, I started as an independent postdoctoral fellow at Harvard/ITAMP, working on topics related to quantum many body physics, quantum simulation, and machine learning.
- Could you share something particularly exciting and interesting about your current position/research?
I currently work on a couple of topics that I’m really excited about, such as pairing of charge carriers mediated by magnetic interactions, and using machine learning techniques to gain the most information possible from experimental measurements. Another exciting aspect is that since a few weeks, I get to travel quite a bit to conferences and workshops after two years of zoom.
- Who is your biggest role model and what have you learned from them?
For a very long time, I actually didn’t have a role model. However, I recently read Mildred Dresselhaus’ biography and she’s probably what’s closest to a role model for me now. She managed to do impressive research, and to do so in a time where it was much harder for women than it is today, coming from a somewhat unlikely background, and combined it with having four children and still (from what I can tell) seems to have been an awesome person.
- Tell us about your experience at IMPRS-QST. What did you like most about the graduate school?
I really enjoyed the many opportunities to interact with lots of grad students from QST in the Munich area, ranging from seminars to summer schools with running, swimming, and hiking. Also, I really liked that we were able to decide on topics and speakers of various events ourselves.
- Can you list three important skills that you learned during your PhD/in the graduate school which were useful when applying for positions (and now in your current position)?
- Getting confident about the things I know and am an expert in, and through that, the confidence to admit when I don’t know/understand something and ask
- The skill of physics small talk: having enough superficial knowledge about a variety of fields, such that I can talk to people working on different (but of course still related) topics about their research
- Being able to deal with setbacks: there are a lot of setbacks in academia, ranging from failed projects, to journal or application rejections. During my PhD I learned how to deal with those emotionally and how to quickly come up with a new plan.
- What advice would you give to somebody just starting their PhD?
- Take notes of your thoughts and the steps you took, you wouldn’t believe how fast you will forget what you did, and why you did it.
- Don’t hesitate too much with asking your questions — you can profit so much from learning from others.
- Choose a topic, supervisor, and group, with which you feel comfortable in good as well as in bad times.
- What do you like to do most when you are not working?
Being outdoors: biking, hiking, running, or playing soccer.