Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past decades, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015. To mark this day, we asked three of our female scientists about their careers.

Portrait of Konstanze Möller Jansen

Konstanze Möller-Jansen, PhD Researcher

Konstanze works on a project called “Democratizing the Internet of Skills”, an assessment of normative issues relating to CeTI’s research goals. One of the aims of this research project is to develop a vocabulary and suggest established models for natural and engineering scientists to envision and examine the impact of their technologies.

At 15 or 16 years old, when discussing with my parents what I could study one day, they told me first to imagine the most audacious idea of a job I later wanted to do. One of my audacious ideas was “philosophy professor”, so yes, being a researcher in philosophy was always something I wanted to do.

My mother is and has always been an important role model for me, by showing me the hard work it takes to juggle job and family, but at the same time how rewarding it is to pursue your own career.

Many structural conditions make academia a difficult place to work, especially for people balancing their job with care work. Wanting to see more women from different backgrounds advancing in science, means tackling those working conditions first and foremost.

Irene Valori, Research Associate

Irene investigates the role of affective touch in promoting interpersonal trust in technology-mediated human-to-human exchanges or human-machine interactions. Her research aims to explore individual differences in tactile emotional vocabulary, with a focus on differences related to developmental trajectories, culture, and gender.

I think my academic career has never been based on concepts of ‘meant to be’ or ‘the dream of a lifetime’. I chose to study psychology at university because I was interested in understanding the human mind, why we think or behave in a certain way, how the brain changes through childhood and through the life cycle due to the experiences we have. I did not know what job I wanted to do, but I met researchers who inspired me and become friends, I found supportive universities where people are motivated to contribute to the advancement of knowledge, the education of students and the impact of research on society. I am gradually learning how to do research and I think it is an area of work where my skills are blossoming, and I see a unique opportunity to be part of the international scientific debate. But I think it is important to emphasise that the environment makes all the difference: it is not a job that I intend to do all my life at any cost. I will do it with commitment and passion as long as I feel I am enriched by it and have a good balance between job satisfaction and personal life.

Maybe it will sound like a sad answer, but it is certainly an honest one. My role models (in life and in academia) are people who did the best they could with the resources available, trying to build for themselves and their children or students what they were not given by default. This is never a process without sacrifice. My mother dedicated her life to working full time for the same company, to have the stability and economic independence that her mother did not have. She had to sacrifice free time, personal interests, and time with her daughter. In a mirror-like fashion, some of the senior researchers (women and men) who most inspire and guide me as a scientist have been fighting for a career-life balance that the university environment did not facilitate. They slowed down their careers to have kids or take care of their families, but certainly made the road easier for the young researchers they supervised.

It is difficult to talk about ‘women in science’ in general. A woman’s academic life can be dramatically  different in specific countries, universities and research groups with very different rules, values, and available resources. First of all, we have to start with the education system and focus on nurturing children’s curiosity in science according to their individual interests, without using gender as a divisive criterion of what a child can and cannot learn. I did psychology studies at a 90% female rate and now work in an engineering department at a 90% male rate. It would be good for science if both these percentages changed in the coming years. Academic careers are often based on productivity criteria (how much we publish) that (in addition to reducing the quality of the work we publish) penalise women who take periods of maternity leave or end up working on maternity leave. It would be good for all scientists if quality counted more than quantity of scientific products. Moreover, this career is particularly prone to precariousness: long periods of scholarships instead of actual employment contracts, short-term contracts, the need for mobility and frequent travel, including international travel. This is not only a limitation for women in science, but for all scientists who want a family. There are countries in the world where measures to support families are not sufficient. Universities and research institutes can do a lot, especially where governments do not provide it, to offer child care services, opportunities for dual-careers that facilitate the employment of couples of scientists or their partners with careers outside academia.

Portrait of Katharina Porepp

Katharina Porepp, PhD Researcher

Katharina graduated in traffic engineering at the TU Dresden. She is working as a research assistant at the Chair of Industrial Design Engineering and focusses on the possibilities of technology and digitalization in schools to develop new ways of (digital) learning.

My current research is focused on technology solutions for the classroom. I originally studied traffic engineering, so I didn’t expect to be working with new learning methods. Despite the change in topic, the scientific approach overlaps in many places.

On the side of women, I wish for more courage! We often don’t dare to express our opinions in (male-)dominated discussion rounds and are often intimidated when someone disagrees. If you have a good idea, share it with others!