“I developed a real appreciation for innovation while learning about some of Fraunhofer IMW's most fascinating projects.”

Sarah Kiehne worked at Fraunhofer IMW from 2015 to 2018, where she contributed to the institute's international communication. She currently lives in Vienna and aspires to start her own business. For our interview, she reflected on her experience at Fraunhofer IMW as an international employee. 

Sarah Kiehne

When did you work at Fraunhofer? What was your position there?

I worked as the native English speaking student assistant for Fraunhofer IMW’s Marketing and Communication Division during my master’s studies, starting in 2015.

What is your educational background? How did it lead you to Fraunhofer IMW?

I have a diploma in communications and public relations, a BA with a major in political science and minors in philosophy and sociology, and a dual MA in Global Studies from Leipzig University and the University of Vienna. Regarding how I found my way to Fraunhofer IMW - during the orientation for the Leipzig University Global Studies program, we visited the institute for a presentation. I immediately thought it sounded like an interesting place to work and used the opportunity to approach Mr. Langolf, Head of the Marketing and Communication Division. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a Canadian, how did you feel your work at Fraunhofer compared to your experiences at home? What surprised you the most?

I came to Fraunhofer IMW with international experience in the communications field, having already worked, to give one example, in the mining industry in Canada, the USA, and South Africa. One thing I find interesting is how much working cultures can vary between countries. I would say that perhaps the biggest change for me, and this is something I find in general between the DACH and North American cultures, is that much more emphasis is placed upon hierarchy and formality of address in the workplace. In Canada, the structure is more horizontal. Here, there is also a much stronger focus on processes: ensuring that tasks are completed efficiently, ensuring that nothing is missed or overlooked, and that everyone knows their exact responsibilities and obligations. In addition, I think there is a much deeper respect for work/life balance and familial obligations at Fraunhofer. For instance, I think it’s great that the IMW has a parent office on the premises – this is not something I have seen back home.  

What experiences (professional or otherwise) best prepared you for your work at Fraunhofer IMW?

Certainly, my background in corporate communications, branding and writing was very helpful as I already had an understanding of what the general tasks would be. Having a solid level of German language made adapting to my role much easier too, especially with regard to forms and paperwork! I would also add that the focus on globalization processes, dynamics and structures in my concurrent master’s studies made working at the IMW all the more interesting because at the time, the institute was undergoing a repositioning, shifting its focus from Central and Eastern Europe to the international arena. That this coincided with my studies was fortuitous.

How did you see your division change over time?

What changed most during my time at IMW was probably the size of the Marketing and Communication Division. We were already extremely busy, and this only increased with the institute’s redirection and rebranding initiative. I think being able to offer English-language – and in particular ‘business’ English – communications services to the institute’s divisions and units also became increasingly important as the distribution of projects and target audiences became more international in nature.

What were the most interesting aspects of your job at Fraunhofer IMW?

I really enjoyed learning about the innovation process, i.e. the different steps and stages involved in project planning and implementation, as well as learning about the content of the projects themselves. For instance, robots or artificial intelligence might, in some cases, fall prey to sensationalism in media reporting or suffer negative public perceptions, so for me it was fascinating to hear about the IMW projects actively working to disprove certain misconceptions. I also found the opportunity to work amongst an international mix of staff and interns with such diverse areas of expertise interesting.

What skills did you develop while working there?

Well, my German-language lexicon around sustainability and science certainly improved tremendously during my time at the IMW. I also learned a lot about the field of applied research and gained understanding in topics I previously had little to no knowledge of.

What is your lasting impression of Fraunhofer IMW?

My lasting impression of Fraunhofer IMW is a positive one for several reasons, the first being that I had the opportunity to be part of a really great team in the Marketing and Communication Division. Mr. Langolf provided us with excellent leadership, and all team members were hard workers and creative thinkers with positive attitudes. Everyone could be relied upon not only to complete their work on time, but also to a high standard. As a student, the flexibility that the position offered was also very important. Furthermore, I developed a real appreciation for innovation while learning about some of the fascinating projects the institute was involved with. Finally, on a more superficial level, I formed some lasting friendships during my time at the IMW – and this is never a bad thing. I definitely look forward to reading about the institute’s many future successes.

What are your future professional goals?

There are so many, I’m not sure where to start. As I recently got married, I am now committed to staying in one region (Austria/Bavaria) which means my days of living and to some extent working in different countries are over. Vienna does offer certain career opportunities to non-German native speakers as an ‘international’ city. However, it also presents many challenges, one of which is that the employment market here is notoriously driven by ‘Vitamin B’ – that is to say, relationships often matter more than qualifications when it comes to securing work. Further, while English is a requirement for many communications jobs, so too is fluency in German. Of course, this makes sense – however, it’s one thing to be able to function well in another language and quite another to be able to craft compelling texts. Thus, I hope to start my own communications company with a focus on English services for clients conducting business globally. I have also spent many years writing texts, websites and other materials for employers and would now like to transition into writing and publishing more under my own name. I must confess that potential book ideas always occupy a corner of my mind, so that is certainly a dream for the future.