AcademiaNet: Simona Isler, you are the gender equality representative of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), which is now managing AcademiaNet. What led to this take-over?
Simona Isler: Gender equality in research funding is a cornerstone of the SNSF strategy. The share of women in research, particularly at professorial level, is too low in most European countries. The SNSF wants to do something about this. When we heard that the Robert Bosch Stiftung (RBS) could no longer run AcademiaNet, we decided to host the database. We believe that this platform is an important project that contributes to improving the visibility and networking opportunities of excellent women researchers. Among other things, it helps to find women experts for panels and other bodies.
The SNSF is not alone in its support for AcademiaNet. Other organisations are backing it too. How is the funding of the platform structured?
The main person responsible for AcademiaNet works at the SNSF and we cover a significant proportion of the costs. The RBS will also contribute a share of the budget. They have agreed to do so for the next five years. The rest of the money comes from over 20 European organisations that contribute smaller or larger amounts.
And what will happen in five years time? Have you made any plans?
We are in the process of elaborating a model that should function beyond this five-year period. Ideally, we'll find one or two organisations that are prepared to contribute a larger sum. We are optimistic that we'll succeed. When asking for financial support, we often receive positive feedback. In principle, many organisations are prepared to support efforts for more gender equality in Europe.
For a whole year, the platform wasn't managed. What can we expect now?
The database was accessible throughout, but nobody updated it in 2019. We spent last year figuring out new ways of collaborating. Now we can continue where things were left off in 2018 and resume the nomination process.
AcademiaNet also functions as a networking platform for women researchers. Why is it important to maintain a women-only network?
In a male-dominated area such as research, women researchers very much appreciate sharing ideas and experiences with other women. Such a network makes it possible to offer support to each other and to form alliances and friendships. This can be very relevant when asserting yourself in such a competitive environment.
Do you have plans to develop and adapt AcademiaNet?
We want to focus on growing and representing all of Europe. AcademiaNet was originally a German project that has expanded its coverage to Northern and Eastern Europe. But a number of countries, particularly in Southern Europe, are still underrepresented. We would like to include more women researchers from those countries in our database. Thanks to the numerous SNSF contacts to European research funders, we are able to get in touch with suitable organisations. And we have made a successful start: the Spanish funding organisation has recently signed a collaboration contract with AcademiaNet. This is great news.
On another note, we want to do more to promote analogue networks. But we are currently unable to fund clubs that meet regularly in various locations. If we want to do this, we need to secure more funding. We will also think about diversity. Several funding organisations have expressed the wish that AcademiaNet could also represent other groups that are underrepresented in research. But first, we need to get the day-to-day business up and running again.
(© Swiss National Science Foundation / AcademiaNet)