Doctoral student portrait: Dr Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt – heather, lifeblood

2021-02-01 The environmental scientist did research in ecology on the influence of climate change in combination with nitrogen inputs on heathland landscapes. Today she is the managing director of the NABU Environmental Pyramid in Bremervörde. On 11 February, she will join other Leuphana University doctoral alumni at the online networking event for PhDs, WiMis and PostDocs.

Dr. Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt in nature ©mareike_sonnenschein
"You should do a doctorate out of passion for the subject. You can only write a doctoral thesis with heart and soul."

Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt used to want to study biology. But when she looked at the curriculum, the content was too subject-specific for her. She was looking for a study programme where she could think outside the box: "That's how I came across environmental sciences." After her first semester at a university in southern Germany, Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt switched to Leuphana. She had found the right degree programme for her. She quickly completed her compulsory courses so that she could then concentrate on her main subject areas: Environmental Chemistry and Ecology. "During this time, I also did an internship in a research project by Werner Härdtle in Israel". A few years later, the professor of ecology, especially landscape ecology, approached the now graduated environmental scientist and offered her a PhD position. Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt had meanwhile travelled around the world: She wrote her thesis on pesticide degradation in Brazil and did research on nutrient cycles in Ecuador for the University of Mainz. "After graduating, it quickly became clear to me that I would like to go into research," she recalls. So in 2008 she became a research assistant in the working group of Prof. Dr. Werner Härdtle and conducted research in the Klimzug-Nord project funded by the BMBF. The project partners of Klimzug-Nord investigated the effects of climate change in the Hamburg metropolitan region.

For Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt, a particularly big plus at Leuphana: the good supervision ratio. "You are not just a number." She raves about the good cohesion in the working group and the support from her doctoral supervisor. Nevertheless, the doctorate is very challenging: "During the doctoral thesis, you are more or less an only child. You have to be able to work on your own. No one else is as deep in your own topic as you are." The doctoral student at the time collected data in the field for several years and additionally worked experimentally in the greenhouse. "For three years I took no holiday and also worked through the weekends," recalls Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt. Among other things, she investigated the influence of increased nitrogen inputs from the air on heather, which can be caused by intensive fertilisation in agriculture, for example. She also looked at how droughts affect a heath landscape and whether these effects are intensified by nitrogen: "Increasing nitrogen inputs and extreme weather are causing serious problems for the heath," explains the environmental scientist.

She started at the Federal Environment Agency in Dessau-Roßlau only a week after her doctoral examination. Since the end of 2017, she has now been the managing director of the NABU Environmental Pyramid in Bremervörde. Today, she can apply much of her doctorate to her job: The environmental education centre for children, young people and adults has to be self-sustaining. That's why Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt writes project applications, raises funds or plans class trips for schoolchildren, an important pillar of the NABU Environmental Pyramid. "What I do here goes far beyond the purely technical background of practical nature conservation. Holistic project thinking is required. That was also the case during my doctorate," she explains. Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt took a lot away from her doctoral thesis, but also contributed: "You should do a doctorate out of passion for the subject. You can only write a doctoral thesis with heart and soul."

Further Information

Dr Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt will be present as a contact person at the online networking event "Let's Talk Karriere" on 11 February 2021 from 17 to 19h. In various break-out sessions via Zoom, doctoral students, research assistants and post-doctoral students can exchange ideas with Leuphana alumnae/alumni from different fields of activity in an informal setting, ask possible questions about their career and career tips, and network. Registration is required by 7 February - further information at:

Online networking event for PhDs, WiMis und PostDocs „Let’s Talk Karriere“

The event is jointly organised by the Graduate School and the Cooperation Service as part of the project "Multilateral Scouting Processes for Innovation and Careers". The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the state of Lower Saxony.