Women in Science Profiles
Dr. Petra Zigert
The foundations for my future work in natural sciences and mathematics were laid already in primary school where I was particularly keen on doing assignments and solving problems from the field of mathematics. Social sciences, on the other hand, never really managed to spark my interest. When I started attending secondary school with a programme focused on natural sciences and mathematics, my enthusiasm for natural sciences and mathematic grew even stronger. Later I became a student of mathematics and chemistry at the Faculty of Education in Maribor and I realised that mathematics does not equate to solving mathematical problems. When I first had to present the proofs of some more difficult theorems, my enthusiasm waned a little bit, at the same time, however, this made me see the real beauty of mathematics – it is a closed system in which you use known facts to come to new conclusion. In my BSc thesis I combined mathematics and chemistry. My mentor and later my ''mathematical father'' was Prof. Sandi Klavžar, PhD, because of whom my interest was drawn also to chemical graph theory which is still the main field of my research.
When I became a postgraduate student, I started working at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, first at the Faculty of Education and later on at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics which was formed within the framework of the Faculty of Education. First I was a young researcher, then I became an assistant and after that an assistant professor. At present I work at the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology in Maribor. I try to use my knowledge of chemistry in my approach to teaching mathematics to future chemical engineers. My work at the faculty demands a lot of time as I try to encourage the students to do their work and study also between individual classes and not only before the exams. At the same time I try to motivate them with modern teaching methods and all of this, of course, requires quite a lot of time and effort. I believe, however, that no matter how important and desired the knowledge of mathematical program tools is for a non-mathematical student, a pen and a piece of paper or – in my case – a blackboard and a piece of chalk will for him or her always be the basis of learning and teaching mathematics.
With all the changes in working methods and study programmes there is very little time left for research. Before I became a mother of two adorable little girls, I worked almost every weekend. Now it is no longer so. I had to separate my work from my private life and now we all try to have the afternoons for ourselves. Every week there are days when I come home so late that my girls are already in their pyjamas, however, I try to make sure that this happens as rarely as possible. But there is something else. Being away for a few days on business is still a true logistic achievement and without both grandmothers and grandfathers this would simply be impossible to carry out.
It makes me very happy to come to new conclusions with my research and to hear my students commend my teaching methods. But I am also happy when I hear my children laugh and cry. I do not see myself only as a scientist, but as a combination of a lecturer, a researcher, a mother and a partner. It is hard to co-ordinate everything. When you have small children, you practically do not have any free time. I miss recreational sport, however, the reason for this is at present also an injury.
I try to do my best in everything I do, but for me research and teaching are most of all my occupation. My family, on the other hand, is my life.