After gaining her Abitur (higher-education entrance qualification), Bulmahn spent one year living in the Bror Hayil kibbutz in southern Israel. She later studied political science and English language and literature at the University of Hanover. From 1981 to 1987 she worked as a school teacher in Hanover.
Bulmahn joined the SPD in 1969 and was a member of the party executive committee from 1993 to 2011.
Bulmahn entered the German Bundestag following the 1987 federal elections, representing the 42nd electoral district of Hannover. From 1987 to 1990 she served as deputy chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Study Commission on Technology Assessment and from 1990 to 1994 as deputy spokeswoman for the SPD parliamentary group on the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment.
From 2005 to 2009, Bulmahn served as chairwoman of the Bundestag Committee for Economic Affairs and Technology. During that time, she was also the deputy chairwoman of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with Arabic-Speaking States in the Middle East, which is in charge of maintaining inter-parliamentary relations with Bahrain, Irak, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian territories.
From 2009 to 2013, Bulmahn was a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and spokeswoman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Sub-Committee on Civilian Crisis Prevention and Integrated Conflict Management. In this capacity, she served as her parliamentary group's rapporteur on Southeast Asia. In addition, from 2011 to 2013, she served as spokeswoman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Study Commission on Growth, Wellbeing and Quality of Life.
Bulmahn’s tenure fell in a period of significant changes in Germany’s education system. In 2002, amid a heated debate surrounding the German parliament’s vote on allowing human embryo stem cells to be imported for medical research, she voiced her support for allowing the import of embryo stem cells under strict conditions. When Bulmahn first proposed in 2004 an initiative to foster an elite circle of universities with significant funds from the federal government, she drew heavy criticism; however, after lengthy negotiations with the state governments, a compromise was finally reached in June 2005.
On 22 October 2013 Bulmahn was elected as one of the Vice Presidents of the Bundestag. In addition, she is a member of the parliament’s Council of Elders, which – among other duties – determines daily legislative agenda items and assigning committee chairpersons based on party representation. She also serves as a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as of the Sub-Committee for Civilian Crisis Prevention.
In October 2016, Bulmahn announced that she would not stand in the 2017 federal elections but instead resign from active politics by the end of the parliamentary term.
In 2016, Bulmahn demanded that a financial bonus (9,500 €) be paid to universities for every graduate student they attract.Atlantik-Brücke, Deputy Chairwoman
Centre for European Policy Studies, Member of the Board
Deutsche Telekom Stiftung, Member of the Board
Hannover Medical School (MHH), Member of the Board
FernUniversität Hagen, Member of the Parliamentary Advisory Board
German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF), Honorary Senator
German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Member of the Board of Trustees
German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Member of the Board of Trustees
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Member of the Senate
Stiftung Lesen, Member of the Board of Trustees (since 2015)
Stiftung Institut für Herzinfarktforschung (IHF), Member of the Board of Trustees (since 2015)
Trilateral Commission, Deputy Chairwoman of the German Section
VDMA Impuls-Stiftung, Member of the Board of Trustees
German European Security Association (GESA), Member (2012-2013)
Technical University of Berlin, Member of the Board of Trustees (2005-2010)
Volkswagen Foundation, Member of the Board of Trustees (2002-2009)
Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Post, Member of the Advisory Board (1997-1998)