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Happy Birthday AcademiaNet!

3. 11. 2015 | Five years ago, our portal to excellent female academics was launched in Berlin. To mark this anniversary, we asked our members in a newsletter how their careers, or lives, developed during the last five years, and whether they think that things have changed for women in academia during this period.
A lot has happened in the last five years – in the world, in academia, and in the lives of the female academics belonging to our growing network. The turnout was great, thank you for that! We thought we would be lucky to get maybe four or five replies: almost thirty female researchers wrote us about their personal and academic lives, as well as about what it means to be a woman in science. The overwhelming majority shared positive stories (27), either about their own scientific career (16), like becoming full professors, or about the progress of women in science in general (6). A small group took our question about their 'lives' seriously and answered – all of them proudly – how they became both a professor and a mother in this time period.

Dr. Lone Wandahl Mouyal
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Dr. Lone Wandahl Mouyal
For instance Lone Wandahl Mouyal wrote from Copenhagen, that "while on maternity leave with my second daughter, I received a research grant, an additional research talent prize, wrote two peer-reviewed academic articles, finished a book contribution (...)." And when her husband went on paternity leave, she became a visiting scholar at Columbia Law School "and he was hanging out with both girls at playgrounds, coffee shops and in Central Park." From stories like this we can learn: Women today want both – an interesting, challenging career and a family, also in the realm of academia. This is a fact well known to social scientists, but now more and more women are setting out to actually 'have both' – and many of them succeed.

Naturally, we also had a few remarks on negative experiences of women in research. Interestingly enough, all rather negative remarks came from women with full professorships (6 in all, some long answers were counted in more than one category): those are women who've made it right to the top. With their comments, they write about the things they see around them, or they remember their earlier experiences. One member wrote us about 'entrenched prejudice' in academia in the UK, and that she mostly tries "to ignore it and just get on with the work," but she finds it "intrusive and frustrating".

Now we shouldn't assume that our younger members don't encounter prejudice or 'harassment', as a French member put it. But they apparently try to ignore it as well, and probably don't want to say anything negative about the academic system in their respective countries. Of course, comments like that certainly make us ponder on gender equality in science. But if there were no problems, AcademiaNet would never have been necessary in the first place. So as long as women face gender discrimination, or don't set out to have a academic career in the first place, we need initiatives to make excellent female researchers more visible, and to connect them better.

Prof. Monika Ritsch-Marte
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Prof. Monika Ritsch-Marte
As the physicist Monika Rietsch-Marte from Innsbruck elaborated: "I am very grateful for the opportunities Academia Net has created for me, especially for creating a wonderful frame for interacting with female scientist form entirely different areas of science. This truly broadens the mind and leads to new perspectives." And the economist Lucia Reisch, who teaches in Copenhagen and at Zeppelin University on Lake Constance, elaborates on women in science: "Research has shown that diverse teams (not only, but also regarding gender) are 'wiser', i.e., more effective and more creative; and to my experience, simply more fun to work with - and fun should be our main driver at work."

Prof. Lucia Reisch
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Prof. Lucia Reisch
AcademiaNet started with roughly 500 excellent female academics that had been appointed by our mostly German partner organizations. Now, we feature more than 2,000 female researchers from 34 countries, and cooperate with 48 international research institutions (and only these organisations can recommend female researchers for AcademiaNet). Today, women hold only about 15 percent of the top positions in science and research in Germany, about 17,5 percent in the UK, as Dr. Ingrid Wünning Tschol said earlier this year. These rates are improving by about one percent each year. Wünning Tschol is Senior Vice President for Health and Science at the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Germany, and she is also the inventor of AcademiaNet. She will give a Keynote at the Gender Summits Conference in Berlin this November with the title "No more excuses: Europe's science needs women".
Ingrid Wünning Tschol
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(© AcademiaNet)


Ingrid Wünning Tschol | the founder of AcademiaNet, in our brochure about women in science, and about the AcademiaNet project.

(Free download of the AcademiaNet brochure in PDF format here)

So theoretically, if we waited about 35 years, women would hold just as many top science positions as men. But the downside of this approach would be: The majority of today's excellent female researchers would come away empty-handed – we cannot accept that, and we all need to work hard to accelerate this development.

Prof. Eva Grebel
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Prof. Eva Grebel
Eva Grebel, an astronomer at Heidelberg University, wrote to us: "AcademiaNet has become an important tool for appointments committees for professorial positions as well as for suggestions of candidates for the review board (Fachkollegium) of the German Research Foundation." We hope that more and more committees see AcademiaNet as an important tool to increase the number of female candidates. Women have come a long way – and they will go further!


Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a PhD in physics and was the keynote speaker at the AcademiaNet launch five years ago, sent her congratulations in a video-message (German with English subtitles):


  (© AcademiaNet)
Susanne Dambeck

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