Dr. Christian Küchenthal
GGL member from 2007 to 2010
Portrait from July 04, 2018
Christian Küchenthal received his doctorate in chemistry in 2012 and also obtained a degree as Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the international Collège des Ingénieurs. After his studies he joined the science and technology company Merck in Darmstadt as senior manager in technology scouting. In 2013, he became Project Manager for the restructuring of a central research unit into a business unit and was subsequently promoted to Director and Member of the Executive Team of this business unit. His main focus was on marketing communication and project, process and innovation management. Christian then moved to Israel in 2016, where he was Head of Strategic Research for Quantum Materials at Merck subsidiary Qlight Nanotech in Jerusalem until April 2018. Today, he is responsible for setting-up a new, IT-based business unit for Merck in the life science sector in Darmstadt.
After studying Chemistry, you did a doctoral degree at the JLU. Whom would you recommend to be a doctoral candidate?
In chemistry, it is still common practice to study for a doctorate after the master degree. In my view, however, we are about one third too many doctoral candidates in Chemistry and most of the training is unfortunately focused on academic careers only. During your studies and the doctorate you should open your horizons and see what corresponds to your interest. Otherwise you will find yourself among many good researchers who unfortunately do not bring any additional qualifications for other positions.
You did your doctoral research on "Synthesis of novel cancer-specific carboxypeptidase ligands". How would you explain what this was about?
Certain molecules recognize specific cancer cells and can be used to detect or combat cancer cells at an early stage. This works like a particular key that fits only a specific lock. Without the right key, the door cannot be opened. The molecules I developed ("carboxypeptidase ligands") could be used in the diagnosis of prostate cancer cells.
In 2012, you started working for Merck in Darmstadt. How did you find the position and what was the application process?
Over the course of my studies, I had to learn that it is important to build networks. I was very involved in the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society) and in the JungChemikerForum (Younger Chemists Network), their student sub-organization - first locally in Gießen, later as national chair representative. Therefore, I met many top managers of the chemical industry, including my first supervisor at Merck. When I approached him looking for a project as part of my MBA studies, I convinced him to do this project at Merck. So, I could directly prove what I am capable of in addition to the very good grades. In the end, I got the employment contract - despite difficult hiring times. Thus, it was not a normal application process, but all the more successful. I can only recommend to everyone, to engage privately, to expand their own network and to broaden their horizons.
What were your responsibilities at Merck and how would you describe your daily work?
I was recruited as a scout at Technology Office Chemicals, a senior management unit. The aim of my work was to identify new technologies and possible future business areas for Merck in the Life Science and Material Science area. This meant looking first to see how the world will change in the future - usually called Megatrend Analysis or Corporate Foresight. From this, potential growth markets and products could be derived, for which there are no technologies yet or only in the first stages of development. For these, a so-called business plan had to be developed, which required scientific expertise as well as business understanding. This work was very varied as I traveled a lot and came into contact globally with university working groups as well as start-ups.
From 2016 to April 2018 you worked for the Merck subsidiary QLight Nanotech in Jerusalem. What were the reasons for this step and what was your job there?
After scouting, I became the project manager for the restructuring of a central research unit, which led me to be offered a head of department in the newly created organization. Here, I worked with my teams of 15 persons on marketing communication, innovation management, data and process management as well as project management. About two years later, the new department was incorporated into other units - nothing is as constant as change - and I looked around for new challenges.
In mid-2015, Merck acquired the Israeli start-up Qlight Nanotech, which was a spin-off of the chemistry department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For this purpose, a new research manager was sought who, in addition to the actual research, also took care of integrating the company into the large corporation. Since I was interested in going abroad again after a few years at the company headquarters, I was very happy when they offered me this position. It did not take me 5 minutes to decide.
In Jerusalem, we were working with 3 teams and about 23 employees on the topic of quantum materials for display applications, the future for televisions and mobile phones. My task in the second year of my posting was to align the team activities with the strategy of the business area and to convert the customer's wishes into new inventions and successful products and innovations.
Do you have some advice to our current doctoral candidates who are about to start their careers?
There are currently only a few vacancies in the traditional job descriptions for scientists (research in university and industry) in Germany. Successful applicants, should have not only very good grades, but should also stand out from the crowd by other things. For this, it is important to know your own interests. For that, one's own horizon needs to be expanded early on and new experiences to be made. If possible, doctoral candidates should go abroad for a certain period of time, do an internship in those areas that they don’t know yet, engage in social work, push themselves to their own limits. This will then deliver not only a certain amount of self-awareness, but also makes it possible to meet new and exciting people who sooner or later point out new directions or bring you back to reality when the world is turning too quickly around you.