Women in Photonics - Virtual Panel Discussion

Women in Photonics - Virtual Panel Discussion

Future photonics talents meet female role models

March 10, 2021

There are already many great women in science - but not nearly enough! In photonics in particular, many intelligent young women shy away from a career as a scientist and a PhD. Three of our MPSP PhD candidates have nevertheless dared to step into science and now encouraged other young women in a Panel Discussion.

According to the American Physical Society, only about 20% of doctoral degrees in physics and engineering fields are given to women. And according to the American Institute of Physics, only 13% of all physics professors worldwide are female. But why is it (still) like that? Why do many young women shy away from a (scientific) career in physics?

Science shows: Women avoid Competition

There are many answers to this, as well as various studies that deal with gender imbalance in science. Some of them show for example, that women tend to avoid competitive situations, whereas men prefer competitive tasks. These preferences are primarily acquired through our socialization - in matriarchal societies, for example, the pattern is reversed. The working environment, including that of scientists, is often very competitive – probably also because it has been male-dominated for decades. So young women are often afraid to pursue a career in science and often rate their own abilities not high enough.

The so-called "impostor syndrome" is certainly related to this. It describes the fear that your own skills are not sufficient and that you therefore feel out of place. Although both men and women struggle with this problem, studies have shown that in science it is mainly women from ethnic minorities who are affected by it. One study (Gregory & Geoffrey, 2007) attributes this to hideous forms of racism and sexism in Western academia. So it's high time to do something about it!

Strong Role Models as a Chance to Fight Fears

A study by Meier, Niessen-Ruenzi, and Ruenzi (2017) shows that women are significantly more likely to choose competition if they have previously seen a successful women whose behavior they can orientate themselves on. Another recent study (González-Pére, de Cabo & Sáinz, 2020) showed that girls who meet a positive role model have more fun in STEM subjects and are more likely to trust themselves to be good at them. It also breaks down gender stereotypes.

Of course, there are also other ways than strong role models to empower women for a career in science. Workshops and a close network with like-minded people encourage and give a career boost. And this is exactly what we do! In March and April 2021, we put our successful female PhDs in the spotlight – to encourage female students to think about a career in science and a PhD in photonics and to apply for excellence programs like ours. You had the chance to meet Esther, Lisa and Najd, three of our #WomeninPhotonics, in a virtual panel discussion, hear about their path to PhD and exchange ideas with them. We were very happy that so many of you took advantage of this opportunity and that we could exchange ideas with more than 25 young female photonics enthusiasts! Furthermore, we organized a free career workshop with female empowerment coach Tanja Kunz to stregthen the #WomenInPhotonics network. 

Would you like us to organize more events like these for women in Photonics? Then let us know! Just drop us a line on social media or via email




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