Dr. Johanna Grunemann
13 February 2019
Michael Eppelmann

"It all comes back to the animal"

As we recognise the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, Johanna Grunemann, Head of Animal Facility and Animal Welfare Officer in Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Research Centre in Hannover, shares her career path and aspirations, her motivation to work in science, her big wish, and where she sees the purpose of her work.


A guest feature.

Johanna, what is your background?

I am a veterinarian by training but after some years of practice, I moved to research and specifically to industrial research as I was drawn towards working in a broader environment. In veterinary practice, you are part of a smaller team and the scope is naturally smaller; I was interested in having a larger perspective on the entire field. I’ve been working in Boehringer Ingelheim since 2011.


Did you always want to go into science?

I wanted to be a veterinarian since my teenage years because I had a very close relationship with animals. As far as I can remember, I was always surrounded by animals. In my family, we had cats, a turtle, a dog and rabbits and I was asking my father to buy me a horse since I was five - I only succeeded when I was 17. I was really interested in animals including the ones on our neighbour’s farm.


As you have such a close relationship with animals, do you believe humans and animals share a special bond?

I think there is a special bond between humans and animals because they are our fellow creatures. They share a wide range of emotions we have and there are more similarities between the different species on the Earth than we would assume as we often just consider the outer appearance.


What does your day look like?

As the head of the facility, I supervise animal caretakers. We do start early in the morning. My role is rather administrative now; first, I answer emails and every now and then, I have an appointment in the facility with my colleagues to catch up on different matters. I also carry out inspections in my role as Animal Welfare Officer, and as part of managing a team, I sometimes do training. In the afternoon, I usually spend time at my desk again, for example applying for permissions to authorities. At times, there are practical things to do, such as blood samplings or assisting colleagues in absence of others.


What is the coolest project you’ve ever worked on?

There were a number of really cool projects over the years. One of the coolest ones I worked on as a surgeon included minipigs where I had a hi-tech surgery room just for myself. That was first-class technology I had never experienced before as a veterinarian.

The other coolest project I was involved in was the equipment and structural development of the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Research Centre animal facility. We started from scratch and now we are working in a high-tech environment. I’m very proud of the result.


Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Research Centre in Hannover


Where do you see yourself in the future?

I enjoy where I am right now. I was working as a Global Animal Welfare Officer for a while, which was interesting as I liked to have that global view. My responsibilities included harmonising standards among sites in different countries. There’s a great deal of diversity there as we do research in Germany, China, Mexico, and other countries, so you deal with very different sites, people, laws, backgrounds. However, I am now really happy as I love my team and my work.


What advice would you give to women and girls who want to pursue science?

Actually, veterinary medicine in Germany is female dominated – about 90 percent or even more of veterinary students are women. It is strange, but we have a lack of men in this industry. I’d recommend to keep their mind and options open. I originally thought I would become a cow vet or a horse vet. But that changed over the years and I was open to change my direction.


What was your proudest moment?

As an Animal Welfare Officer here in Hannover I had an appointment in the Parliament of Lower Saxony to talk about a change in animal welfare related law. I represented the point of view of Boehringer Ingelheim as a leader in the industry. And my parents were in the auditorium. They were surprised that I could do things like treating my sister’s cat as well as talking about regulations. I was proud and so were they.


What do you in your free time?

I like to be with my horses and my dog, Emma Peel. And I like being outside and doing all types of activities, such as running, cycling, skiing, you name it.


What’s your wish for the next breakthrough?

The next ‘supervaccine’. There are some infectious diseases for which it is not that easy to create a vaccine. So my wish, which mirrors our efforts, is for something extraordinary to come out of Hannover.


Final thought?

Looking back at all milestones in my life, my studies, my veterinary practice, working in science, working on a global level, somehow, it all always comes back to the animal. And that’s what drives me. Let me explain. We often deal with complex issues such as laws and regulations but when you come back to the facility or to a veterinary practice, you feel the strong sense of responsibility you have to these animals and their needs, and to the world. That’s where I see the purpose of my work.

"There were a number of really cool projects over the years, says Dr. Johanna Grunemann. "
Michael Eppelmann

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