Madlen Ziege

Foto von Madlen Ziege

Madlen Ziege

Behavioral biologist, author and science communicator


What do you mean by science communication?

The generally understandable presentation of one's own research or the research of other scientists to a broad public. Communication can take place in several ways, e.g. by non-fiction or lecture.


What was the most complicated topic you ever had to convey?

When I was a doctoral candidate at Goethe University, I explained the subject of "Speciation" as part of the Children's University. Not only was the topic a challenge, but also the fact that it was a very young audience. I had to find a way to explain the complex subject in the simplest way possible. In the end, I decided to use an example of the evolution of species in snails. I made a story out of it, which I told using small drawings in PowerPoint.


What did you study?

I studied biology.


What were the last three things you did for your job?

Number 1: I did a radio interview on the subject of wildlife in the city.

Number 2: I was the interviewee of a podcast called “Gegenwartsgeplapper”.

Number 3: I signed books and mailed them to customers and business partners.


You just published your book. How did you go about it? Can you briefly outline the path from the idea to the published book?

When I look back, the journey from the initial idea to the finished book was a very adventurous one with some “heart attack moments”. After I signed the contract with the publisher, I started to write more or less without a plan. In the first year in particular, I was employed full-time as a PostDoc at the University of Potsdam and only ever wrote before or after work. This meant that I didn't really delve into my concept, but always just wrote around a little here and there. As the deadline got closer and closer, I slowly got queasy and had to make a decision - university or book. I chose the latter and focused fully on writing for the next three months. I sought help from experienced authors and revised my book from scratch. Above all, the idea of ​​a “take home message” helped me, because now I had a guide in my head and could better decide what belongs in the book and what doesn't. As soon as I knew what I wanted to write about, the rest of the work went by itself. I'm looking forward to my second book, because now I know how to do it (laughs).


When did you first get the idea to write a book? Was that your childhood dream?

I've always enjoyed reading, and I can even remember writing some short stories as a kid. The desire to write my own book came much later. During my doctoral thesis, I researched wild rabbits in Frankfurt am Main and experienced the funniest things. One day a student spoke to me about it and said: "Madlen, you should write a book about this". The idea was then forgotten again and only overtook me years later. A few days after my thesis defense, the idea of writing a children's book about my research occurred to me. This desire was also the trigger why I took part in my first science slam and was then discovered as an author.


In your opinion, what skills, apart from technical ones, are required to be successful with an idea like this? And how did you develop these skills yourself?

There has to be a fundamental interest in writing in any case, otherwise, in my opinion, the air will run out quickly. We are talking about many hours that I spend alone on the laptop. You have to like this “hermit life”. On the other hand, it needs contact with its readers. As an author you have a lot of freedom, but also a lot of obligations towards the publisher. Teamwork is often required here so that everyone is satisfied in the end. As a scientist, I was already familiar with writing and isolation. What I still had to learn was how to market myself. All of a sudden I needed a website, professional photos for the media and had to prepare for radio and television interviews. The competencies for this gradually come with “doing”, and you grow into it. Whenever I really didn't know what to do next, I looked for help. Above all, these were people who I thought would do their job the way I would like to do it. In doing so, I was not afraid to write to famous authors. I figured it was worth a try and some actually responded.


Did you have any help on your way? Which people played a decisive role for you?

Yes, I did - thank God (laughs). First and foremost, my partner was there for me. He kept encouraging me that I could do it. I was able to learn a lot from him because he knows very well how to write texts. My contact from the publishing house also played an important role. She gave me feedback on the texts and was very understanding when it took a little longer. Good friends of mine (all biologists) took the time to read my work and gave me a lot of tips on what I can do better.


Do you have a favorite passage in your book? What is it about?

Um, that's a good question. I probably had the most fun writing about my experience in a Brandenburg nature park. During my studies, we went on an excursion to the north of Brandenburg to observe the great bustard. This is a species of bird on the verge of extinction. We crouched on a perch in the freezing cold and waited anxiously for the bird to show itself. The memory of it was still very much alive in my head and I had to smile several times when I wrote about it. We actually saw the great bustard that day and were also able to witness the truly crazy mating behavior. I'll only tell you this much: It's the Brandenburg version of the Hollywood love story Gone with the Wind.


What are you planning for the future? Do you want to publish more books or do you have other goals?

In fact, I'm in discussion with my agency about a new book. I am currently working on the synopsis and am already looking forward to the implementation of the book. Otherwise, I would like to catch up on my unusual readings this year and finally come into personal contact with my readers. A YouTube channel and a podcast are planned. In addition, the foreign versions of my book will be available on the market at the end of the year. With a bit of luck, it will turn into a worldwide tour.


What challenges do you face in your job?

In any case, the many possibilities. Writing non-fiction books is just one way of communicating science. I pick out the things that I enjoy and then familiarize myself with the techniques, e.g. the use of online media. I always learn something new. I also like the contact with the audience, that's what science communication lives from. With every topic I write or speak about, it is always a challenge to choose the right words and techniques to convey it.


Your tips for young professionals?

It is of course a good idea to bring your own research to the public. This is a good starting point, especially if it is "only" about small theses like the bachelor thesis. The scientific background is mostly still clear here and the results are also manageable. This is a good way to bring a science slam to the stage or to write a small article for a magazine. There are now also conferences in the field of science communication and platforms such as "Wissenschaft im Dialog". It is worth making contact here.

I also recommend working through your own research for science to every scientist, because it opens up a completely different approach to your own research. This forces you to think again from scratch about your own experiments and results. It is not uncommon for me to see new ideas develop or entrenched perspectives changing.