Aicha Diakite, a PhD student at Technical University Berlin, interviewed Martine Knoop on 30th October 2019.
Martine (MK) just before the interview starts: I am extremely excited. That (giving interviews) is so not me and you know that. But at the same time, I find it a tremendous honour, I am very happy that you do that, because this series (BrightLights) is something special and that you think of me is simply great. Thank you.
Aicha (AD): Thank you for letting me interview you on such short notice. We were speaking at the Velux Symposium with Steve (Fotios) and Kynthia (Chamilothori) about the BrightLights interviews and what impact it has on the young scientists and that there is no female scientist profile captured yet. Well, this will change today. I found it quite interesting that in the previous (BrightLights) interview Jan (Wienold) mentioned you a few times.
MK: Oh yes, I have read that.
AD: So, who is Martine Knoop? I would like to ask some questions about you and your career path and how you got here (at the TU Berlin). So maybe we should start with the question: When or how did your adventure with (day)light start? What is your professional background?
MK: Well, I did something different than the normal students of the faculty of architecture did in Delft. I noticed quite early that I am not a really good designer, so I started to look into building physics – what I really liked as a course. So, I talked to the professors on building physics and together with them I looked at a different program. So, I made my own study program or course program, as a student can do right now as well, but this was not the case when I studied. And then I handed this in at a higher level and they said: “it is ok, but you cannot ever call yourself an architect anymore”. And I said: “ok, that’s fine, no problem with me”. And then I did everything that I could do in the area of building physics. So, I looked into acoustics, thermal aspects, humidity but also lighting. And I did my master thesis in daylighting. And, I think, I never thought of anything else anymore after that. So actually, my supervisor brought me to the topic, because he had this daylighting topic, he gave that to me when I did my thesis and somehow, I really loved the topic.
AD: Right, and then you continued with your PhD in daylighting…
MK: In lighting. Yes, in daylighting. (Laugh) Sorry it’s such a long time ago. Yes, I did something on glare. Yes! With the same supervisor. He was not a lighting expert. He was a building physics expert with a focus on lighting, but he was more general than I am at the moment.
AD: What was his name?
MK: Rien van de Voorden. So, in lighting, there are not that many people that know him, but he is well known or at least he was well known (he is older now) in the building physics area. He let me do my thing and that was quite good. He sent me to conferences, I had to give the presentations myself and I loved to talk about light and learn about light.
AD: And you were also in Berlin at that time?
MK: No, I started in Delft and then I came to IEA Task 21. And IEA Task 21 had people from all over the world and I think this was the greatest thing that could have happed to a PhD student because I got to know quite some people from the lighting business, lighting research world through this IEA Task. We started to exchange ideas and thoughts and I found out that in Berlin they had test rooms that they used for measurements and I could use these for user acceptance studies as well. So actually, a facility that I didn’t have in Delft, in the Netherlands. So, I tried to get funding for this year in Berlin and I got funding from industry and I moved to Berlin and never left (laughs)… well, I left again.
AD: And this was part of your PhD?
MK: It was part of my PhD! So typically, in the Netherlands you have 4 years, but you can take 6 years in total. So, after the fourth year, I went to Berlin. And I worked one year on these studies. Lots of preparations as everybody knows, acceptance studies or studies with subjects take a lot of time. It took me a year and then I used another year in Berlin to write my thesis. Oh, that sounds really bad!
AD: No! Not for Germany at least. So, after the PhD you were in Berlin, you went back to Delft and then you came back to Berlin?
MK: No, actually, I never left Berlin.
AD: Oh ok, so you were writing or finalizing your PhD here?
MK: Yeah! So, I had a small room in Berlin. I wrote my thesis at home. And I just went back to defend my thesis.
AD: True, you said once it was a quite lonely process…
MK: (louder) Oh it was very lonely because I was writing alone in my one-bedroom apartment (laughs). I didn’t have any contacts at the university. I knew some people, but it was not that I came to the university to write my thesis. I did that at home.
AD: Right. And then, if I recall it right, after the PhD you went to the industry?
MK: Yes, I found that it was not that easy in Berlin at that time. I have to admit it was never really easy to find a job in Berlin, because it is not the capital of the lighting industry…
AD: Or industry in general…
MK: So, I was lucky to get to know some people from a small German company (WILA) and I did a small project together with Lichtvision, this was the company of my husband at that time (refers to company, not the husband) and I prepared some teaching material for them. So, I could bring in my lighting knowledge but I had to transform it into material that was understandable for everyone. And I think the reason why it worked well was that I studied architecture, so I had a different way of looking at lighting than a lot of other people. And they gave me a job after that first assignment, and I was an event manager for 5 years.
AD: And then you went to Philips?
MK: Yeah! The company that I worked for, the smaller German company, went bankrupt…not very nice to mention it in an interview… and I had to look for a job. And again, it was really not easy to find something in Berlin, or the neighborhood of Berlin. Do you want to have the details? Well you can cut them out
AD: Yeah, but it is quite interesting…
MK: What is quite interesting is that we… well my husband was working for a smaller company and I didn’t have a job and we had a daughter, at that time 3 years old. So, once I called my father and said: “if you find something in the newspapers or something like that just let me know because we are willing to move to the Netherlands as well”. He called me up 2 weeks later because there was an opportunity. I could apply for a visiting professor at the University in Eindhoven. So, I applied for that job. I didn’t get it right away. I got it later when I worked for Philips, but while thinking about moving to the Netherlands, I contacted someone that I knew for quite some time from committee work. He was not working for Philips anymore, but he knew quite some people.
AD: Well, in the end, it is a lot about the network.
MK: It is unbelievable. He dropped my material with a guy at Philips that said: “well, I cannot do anything with this, but I will forward it to some other people”. And that is how I got my job at the Lighting Design and Application Centre.
AD: A lot of the stories that BrightLights captured were like that, more about how one opportunity leads to the next and then the path was…
AD: Yes. There were some turning points but not like a strict strategy that someone followed. Life does not function like that, I guess. It was much more about opportunities.
MK: I have had some strategies, but later in my life, of how, where do I see myself in a few years, but I didn’t have that at that time. So, I have to admit, I think I was extremely lucky because if I wouldn’t have had the application stuff for the university, I might not have thought about moving to the Netherlands at that stage. Probably, I would have tried to stay in Berlin, because I love Berlin. So, it opened a way of thinking about what are my next steps. And I have to admit Philips was really a wonderful time. It was really a great time. I learned so much.
AD: Which were the projects, it does not have to be only Philips, but the projects, in general, where you have the feeling you learned the most. Not only on a professional but also a personal level?
MK: I think I made the biggest steps when I was working for Philips. I learned a lot about myself. What I want and what I don’t want, when I worked at the University of Eindhoven. Philips gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself because they give you training, and you can try things out. This sounds a bit strange maybe, but you can really also work on yourself in this company, which is quite nice, and I learned a lot about artificial lighting. Something that I really didn’t know that much, because artificial lighting was not taught in Delft. I went to Eindhoven during my studies to get a bit of information on artificial lighting, but by the time that I was in Eindhoven, professor Begemann was not giving his courses. So, I didn’t get all the information that I wanted to have. So, I learned a lot content-wise and also about myself and what I really like as well. And I had the great opportunity to work at a department where everyone did lighting design and I could bring in the research ideas. It was a job, perfect for me.
AD: What were the biggest challenges along the way?
MK: The biggest challenges? I think the biggest challenge still is to trust in the things that I know. I’ve never been completely secure at the beginning of a job and it took me quite some time. Normally you say you need about 3 months to get adjusted to the new job. I need a bit more time. And at the end, and that is why I think I feel so happy about the work at Philips as well, I found a way that I could do the things that I really like, and I was really appreciated. The work was really appreciated as well. And this is something that I have here (at the TU Berlin) as well. So, I found my way. I know what I want, and people like the way I work as well. But the first part was always a bit difficult, I am a bit insecure in these kinds of things.
AD: And when did you develop your strategic way. What do you want, and when, and how?
MK: You mean content-wise or job-wise?
AD: Both! First job-wise, and we will come to the content.
MK: Job-wise, again I think I learned a lot at my job at the university in Eindhoven. I mean, I find out that I don't want to be a professor, that's not my job, because I like the content the most. I like to teach, I like to mentor, I like to work on the research myself. I wouldn't like to give that up. And at least in Germany and in the Netherlands, you have to give that up a bit, to be a real professor. And, I don't want that anymore. Which is perfectly fine for me and I am very happy with the status that I have. For me, I don’t see the additional benefits of a professor job. I am very happy that are some people that do the job so that I don't have to do it. So, I knew that I wanted to be a bit more in research because at Philips I did not do any detailed research any more in the end. I supported product development and marketing content with research. So, I didn't do the research much myself. I provided my colleagues with information. I didn't really miss anything, but I really wanted to go back to Berlin.
AD: So, it was much more about the place?
MK: Yeah, actually I didn't want to leave the company. I would have like to have the same job, although I have to admit, the job I have right now fits even better. But I never had this chance, I never had the chance to be this person at the university. I always had the other job at the university.
AD: What is the most fun: Shaping the new generation? Or creating new knowledge?
MK: Oh, I love it. I love it both. My parents were both teachers, and I always said that I never ever want to be a teacher. And I have to admit that I love, I really love this job. I love to work with you and your colleagues, or our colleagues. I really like to work on the content with you, but also to see how you can improve, what you can learn. These kinds of things are really, really what I like. I like to teach, do the lectures, do the courses and so on. So that's me! Definitely! But I also like to sit behind the computer and work on data. So, I like the research part as well. This is my job.
AD: And did the background from the industry help you in academia?
AD: In what way?
MK: If I look at for example the lighting engineering course, there is a lot of material that we show on our slides, but the stories that I tell about my time at WILA and Philips, that make it a nice lecture. So, the experience that I can share because I had these seven years at Philips, is, I think, quite nice because it makes the lecture quite interesting. And I liked the teachers or professors that talked about practice as well. I think it is a good mixture.
AD: Yes, and most of the students will eventually go into industry!
MK: Right! Right!
AD: So, it is also interesting, that there is someone that they can relate to. Someone who has experienced it herself.
MK: Yeah, and I can tell them that you can have various job opportunities when you want to be in the industry. I have seen a bit and I have seen from the network that I got in that time-period also where people end up. So, when students come to me and ask me: „What can I do with lighting technology? Is it something that I really should study or rather not because there is no job in it?“ Yeah.
AD: Now on the strategy content-wise. You are more active in daylight science and I know that one of your main topics is the question ‘what makes daylight to THE light’. Would you like to share more what is your ‘life topic’…
MK: I think that specific detail is something from the last seven, eight years, but when I applied for the job at the university of Eindhoven, I had to present a vision. And that’s not much different from what I do today. I wanted to know what is ‘daylight’, how can we apply that in architecture, how can we complement that with electrical lighting and how does that affect human beings. Or the other way around, if we want to have proper lighting for human beings how should the daylight be designed and how should the electrical lighting be added to that. So that was already there in 2005 and I never let that go. So that is still the main thing. The thing that was added to it, when I started at the university in Berlin and I still thought about to have a habilitation, is that I want to know what specific characteristics daylight or artificial lighting should have to support human beings. We don’t know why daylight is so… I mean, if you ask people, they all have an answer, but I am not sure if it is just the dynamics or rather it is just the colour temperature or the light distribution. I think it is a combination of a lot of characteristics and I would like to know a bit more about that… Yeah… Actually, I want to know that in 15 years (laugh).
AD: So, you have a strategy for the next 15 years?
MK: Yeah, I have a goal. Actually, to be extremely honest I work on that and the PhD students always work on a bit of that. So, I am pretty sure that we will make big steps in the coming 15 years
AD: So, you think that your future is connected to daylight?
MK: Absolutely! Yeah, absolutely!
AD: Through the path of your career the lighting or daylighting science has changed quite a bit, with the discovery of the ipRGC cells, with LEDs, the Nobel prize for the blue LED. What were in your eyes the biggest achievements from when you started till now and how did that impact your path or your research? Or did it impact you at all?
MK: Yes, definitely! When I finished my PhD studies I knew that glare was not completely solved for daylight and there were other topics, but it was all continuations of things that were already started. I can remember that I thought at that time, although I just moved to industry, I thought what are the topics that I would like to work on if I still would be in research. And then all of the sudden this ipRGC came along and then it opened up a completely new research field. And I think that’s great, I mean that’s very interesting and I think that changed at least my research topics the most. And if I look around, I think that counts for a lot of people. From my generation. For you it is normal, but for us it is not (laugh) All of the sudden, you think all the time: “ok this is going to continue and everyone will do his or her bits and pieces to the existing research”, but then all of the sudden there is a completely new field. Ok, it was not completely new because we knew that lighting had an influence on people, but to describe it and to study it in more detail that was completely new in 2002/2003. And at this time, I came to Philips and they worked on that topic as well, so that was quite good.
AD: It’s also interesting because it opened up the field to even more disciplines. I think that light is very interdisciplinary, you can approach it from different perspectives, but this made it even broader.
MK: Yeah, that’s what I really like about lighting as well. You can talk with so many different people and get a different insight, which makes it…yeah… I think it’s the best topic.
AD: Yes, it is! I agree! (Laugh) So, we mentioned at the beginning of the female profile. Well, most of the PhDs are in their late 20s or early 30s, so I do believe that there is a bit of a different kind of pressure for the female researchers than there is for the male. Did you face any challenges as a young scientist? Or a woman in lighting or a woman in science? How did you navigate between home and work responsibilities when Lisa (Martine’s daughter) was younger? And also changing countries – you moved a few times, which always involves the whole family or the whole family dynamic. What’s your take on that?
MK: I think I would never say that I had difficulties because I was lucky to have the job in the Netherlands, where daycare is a bit different from daycare in Germany, so it was not very strange to work as a woman.
AD: In the Netherlands the women come back to work quite prompt, right?
MK: After six weeks already and I stayed home for three months and then started to work at the weekend again, so Lisa was at home for the first year. I never had the feeling that I didn’t have the chance of doing the things that I wanted to do. We arranged that, the family, and we as family arrange that pretty well, I think. Yes, it was not always easy, because I moved to the Netherlands with Lisa, and Thomas (Martine’s husband) stayed in Berlin to work at his company and moved to the Netherlands 1,5 years later. When I came back to Berlin, he moved back to Berlin 1,5 year later. We have had personal, family challenges, but then again, I think we managed pretty well. I have to admit that I made very very long days, especially when I had the job at the university and at Philips, I worked too much…way too much…and this is something that I don’t do that excessive anymore, but still, I would like to have a bit better balance. I am still working on that.
AD: Now let’s move to the mentorship part… continuing on the female scientist angle. What advice would you give to a young scientist who aspires to leadership positions? And how could we also as a field create more effectively some opportunities to empower young scientists?
MK: What I’ve learned, but that is maybe a personal thing, is that it is very important to find out what you personally want and then it’s not so bad to say so, because if people don’t know where you want to go to, they don’t know. And if they have the job, they cannot offer it to you when they don’t know, so that is one thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had this job (at the TU Berlin) if I wouldn’t have said that I would like to go back to Berlin. So, I think it’s good to have your own idea of where you want to go to, and then talk about it.
AD: But did you then contact Stephan (Völker, Chair of the Lighting Technology at the TU Berlin)? Or did you meet at a conference?
MK: I decided with Thomas that we wanted to go back to Berlin and then we said: “ok, what time frame do we want to go back to Berlin?”. At first, we thought when we are 65, then it was 55 and then on one of our holidays we sat together next to the swimming pool, and we decided waiting till 55 is way too long. That was in 2011. Then we said: “if we don’t want to wait that long, then we could already address it now, isn’t it?”, and then I…
AD: You became proactive…
MK: …that is what I meant: You have to know where you want to go to, and then you have to say it. That’s the same with the Netherlands. If I haven’t talked to Martin van Ooyen, I wouldn’t have had a job with Philips because you are going to end up in a pile of letters and they won’t see your CV. So, I think I was pretty lucky in my life as well, that I have to admit, but I also talked about it. So, when I knew that I wanted to go back to Berlin, I talked to Stephan and he said: “we will have a job opening”. Yeah, that was lucky because I think that six months later the job opening would have been filled…
AD: …but on the other hand if you hadn’t been proactive than…
MK: ... he wouldn’t have known.
MK: Because he said: “I thought you were happy at Philips”. Yeah, I was very happy with Philips, but I wanted to move from Eindhoven to Berlin. So, he would never have talked to me about that. So, I think believe in what you want to do and just talk and try. There is no straight way to the thing that you want to do. So, try things out and you will learn so much about the things that you try out that you may find out that another job is nice as well. I thought, when I did my PhD thesis, that I wanted to stay in research, and then I ended up at two companies that I really, really liked working for. And I learned a lot. I was never ever unhappy in these jobs. And now I am here, and I say: “well, this is even better than what I had until now”. So, try the reroute or... try some other ways to get to your job.
AD: So, the advice for the emerging scientist would be on the one hand be open to opportunities and then the other one is voicing your needs and using your network.
MK: Definitely, if you don’t talk about it, people won’t know. And there is a lot possible even with kids.
AD: Yes, but you do need to have a supportive partner, who plays along with it.
MK: Yes, yes and I definitely had that!
AD: What kind of set of tools or competencies does a young scientist need to have after finishing a PhD? Or what would be the advice that you would give to your younger self? Now that you see what you have accomplished – would it be ‘be more relax’, ‘take it easy’?
MK: I give myself that advice every day! It doesn’t work! (laugh) To be extremely honest when you finish your thesis you will know much more than I knew when I did my thesis. Things have changed. If I compare it to my PhD thesis it was very on my own with my supervisor. I had my network within IEA and CIE, but I didn’t dare to ask them for help. There was no course material at the faculty of architecture when I did my PhD, I was one of the few that did a PhD at the faculty when I did it. With the material that you have, the courses that you can do at the university, and the way that we do the mentoring at the moment, you learn a lot to be prepared for the next step. Do your own research and write it down, that didn’t change, but you get so much more input not just from us but also through LumeNet and Velux PhD forum, the exchange among PhDs but also with the experts.
AD: Also through IEA.
MK: I think you have a different network and you learn a lot from them. And then you need to know where you want to go to, and do you need some extra courses to prepare. This is something that you have in your curriculum, you can do that. Just think about what you would like to do and that might change even over the year, but that’s not so bad. That’s what I say to the students: “don’t worry about what you do right now. Do it with passion. Do the things that you can do with passion and if you find out that that is not the perfect way, you have enough capabilities to change your path!”
AD: About passion, going back to the interview with Jan, I think he used the word “enthusiastic”, that you were very enthusiastic about your research
MK: I am still (laugh)
AD: And that it was very inspirational. And I thought yes, ‘enthusiastic’ is the adjective that I would use to describe you as well. And we see it a lot of times also with students. They come to us because they had a lecture with you and somehow you manage every time to ‘inject’ them with this enthusiasm. What is your drive? How do you keep going? What inspires you, how do you get new ideas and how do you recharge your batteries?
MK: I recharge my batteries when I do my sports, when I go out for a walk, when I see beautiful daylight - I think that’s amazing. I mean, I went on this trip for six weeks and I was just outside, and I looked every day at the daylight, and I thought: “oh, this is my topic”. This is what I like. So, I don’t know what it is, I really like it and I get my energy from that. I want to be outside, I want to do my sports and so on. But I also get a lot of energy from working on a research topic. I always have had that. I want to know why things are the way it is. I like to work on Excel files (laugh) and data!
AD: We definitely need a “I love Excel”-T-shirt for you!
MK: I love it! I love to see that I get curves…ok, this sounds really good (laugh)… I get graphs in Excel that make sense. Or if they don’t make sense and I find out why they don’t make sense, that’s it. You see, I can still talk about it with passion. I love that. But I also like to read literature and draw my own conclusions from that. I think I am a nerdy scientist that really loves her job. Oh, and I love to work with a team as well. I love to see how your ideas, the ideas of the other ones come together. How we all work on our separate topics, but still, in the end, drive one, or the main, topic forward. I don’t know. I am a very lucky person to work in this position with these kinds of people on a topic that is beautiful. Its great!
AD: Yes! I see it also as a privilege that we are able to have a work that is reading and writing and learning and getting to know people that are also fascinated with their topics and the work they do.
MK: Yeah, it’s not so bad isn’t it?
AD: Yes, it’s not so bad! (laugh) So you mentioned that also sport is a big part of your life with your parents both being sport teachers. How does your day before or after work look like? What are your hobbies? I guess the keyword would be Alba (Berlin Basketball team), right?
MK: Yes, I love to watch basketball, but I don’t play basketball. But I LOVE to watch basketball and I have the same passion for that as for lighting. That energizes me. What brings me back to.. it is a kind of serenity that I get when I run, when I swim, when I walk, when I go on my inline skates. And it is very ‘by myself’. So, I loved to walk for six weeks just by myself and it was great, and I got a lot of internal energy from that. So, before I go to work, I need my time for my sports to somehow calm down before I start with a working day. And I have noticed, and people even said that, that if I don’t do that, people know that. Because then I am restless, I don’t have that much energy. So, I really need that.
AD: How does an average day look like for you? I mean we see each other, but I actually don’t know.
MK: An average day? I get up, and I have half an hour for myself when I prepare breakfast for the whole family and I need that time for myself, so this is when I structure my head. Before I go to work, I drive to the swimming pool and I swim, because I love that. And then here (at work) it depends on the time but normally I have a lecture or two lectures a day. I have meetings with PhDs, I really like to spend some time on that as well. I don’t have that much time to work on my own stuff, that’s what I do most of the times at night. I think we have a lot of meetings, but that’s part of the job. That’s not the fun part of the job, but that’s part of the job because that’s how departments work together. If you don’t have this communication anymore, you don’t work together anymore. I don’t like that part that much, but I appreciate the value of a meeting. So, I can stand it (laugh). And then I try to be home early enough to make dinner for Lisa and myself. Sometimes for Thomas, because he is not always at home, still traveling for his job. And most of the time I sit behind my computer at night. Still…
AD: For how many hours then?
MK: I want to say a few, but that’s something that I really, really would like to change. I would like to read more because I love to read. And I don’t mind reading different things, it doesn’t have to be a normal book, it can be literature as well, but I don’t want to sit behind the computer at night anymore.
AD: Yeah, well we know the negative impact of that.
MK: Right. And that’s something that I promised myself when I came back from Santiago (Santiago the Compostela) and I just didn’t manage.
AD: I have a question regarding Santiago de Compostela. So, you gave yourself a nice gift for your birthday
MK: Yes. Actually, my family did (laugh)
AD: Yes, you and your family! So, you went walking 800 km? With 6 kg on your back?
MK: No, a bit more. In the beginning, it was 6 kg. I think it had in the end about 8-8,5 kg. But not that much.
AD: And you were walking for 6 weeks?
MK: Six weeks, yes! I had some breaks in between, so I was some days off. But I walked every day about 25 km.
AD: Well, I have to admit we were all thinking that is not possible that you can survive without work longer than 24h…
MK: It was unbelievable. I came from the plane because I flew to Biarritz, and I forgot about work right away. And I have thought 3 times about work in a bit more detail during the whole trip. So, this was my trip. I really loved it.
AD: Do you have the next goal for walking or a longer trip?
MK: No, the next goal is not set yet, but this is something I would like to do more often. It doesn’t need to be six weeks, although I really needed the six weeks this year. Well, ‘needed’ sounds a bit strange, but after 700 km I found what I was looking for and the trip was 800, so that was good. I don’t think I need another 800, but I don’t mind to walk. That was really my thing.
AD: But the hardest thing, I can imagine, is to keep the momentum when you come back.
MK: It is very difficult. It is very difficult. I had it the first week and then I came back to the routine of normal working, lectures, meetings, working at night. So, I kind of lost it a bit, but I need to get it back because it was quite a good feeling.
AD: Nice! We are almost done I have one more question. Did you have also role models or people that you would like to mention that shaped you? Or meetings, moments?
MK: I think I have a few, definitely. So, my supervisor (Rien van der Voorden) was very important for me, because he introduced me to the topic, which was brilliant. I know that without Laurens Zonneveldt, who is a guy from the Netherlands who introduced me into IEA, I wouldn’t have had IEA Task 21 and I wouldn’t have had this network, so that was quite good. So, they shaped my path quite strongly, if you can say so. My role models? Jennifer Veitch and Peter Boyce. I think in lighting, for me, they are brilliant. Very nice people with a lot of knowledge. But these are just two I can mention. Especially in the lighting business, so many people have a lot of knowledge but also are really, really fine people. People who like to talk to you about the topic, but these two stand out. Absolutely!
AD: Maybe these are the next interviews. Well, Peter Boyce was the first one, would be nice to have an interview with Jennifer Veitch, to get to know her from a more personal side.
MK: I can imagine that is quite interesting.
AD: Well this is the job of the next PhD. Thank you so much. This was so much fun.