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University of Basel

From biology to communications.

Interview: Bettina Volz-Tobler

Tanja Dietrich studied biology at the University of Basel. Today, she is communications director at Basel Zoo and owner of a communications agency specializing in online marketing and consulting for small and mediumsized enterprises and associations.

Tanja Dietrich
Tanja Dietrich (Image: zVg)

UNI NOVA: Tanja Dietrich, what made you want to study biology?

TANJA DIETRICH: Animals have fascinated me since childhood. At the time, the only animals we could keep were a cat and two guinea pigs, so I turned to books and started accumulating knowledge about all kinds of animals. I was something of a walking animal encyclopedia as a child. So it was an obvious choice for me to enroll in the Biology I course, as it was called then. Unlike Biology II, with its focus on cell biology, it included classes on vertebrate biology and systematics. The program as I knew it no longer exists.  

UNI NOVA: You’ve been head of communications at Basel Zoo for 15 years. You also run your own communications agency. How did you end up on this particular career path?  

DIETRICH: For my thesis on an aspect of vision in fish, I worked at Basel Zoo and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. After graduating, I worked part-time at the zoo and part-time as Director of Education and Interpretation at Museum.BL. At the same time, I was engaged in voluntary conservation work. When Basel Zoo created the post of communications Director in 2004, they asked me. In parallel, my volunteer work was growing and led to more and more inquiries from small associations and organizations. I decided then to found my own agency, specializing in online marketing consulting. I give advice to small businesses, institutions and associations that want to raise their profile and gain new clients. I show them how to use online content to attract visitors and turn them into clients.  

UNI NOVA: What’s your most vivid memory from your time at university?  

DIETRICH: I would say the medical parasitology classes at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute with those great big jars filled with all kinds of parasitic worms, but most of all Professor David Senn and his classes, which were always packed out. His enthusiasm for his subject bubbled over and he would often illustrate his points with spontaneous drawings on the board. His classes left a lasting impression on a whole generation of biology students. He still organizes a dinner every year for “Sennians” to meet and compare notes.

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