Women in Photonics

Women in Photonics

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 took the time to encourage other young women. Furthermore, we offered a #FemaleEmpowerment Workshop for those who still doubt if they can make it in science.

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. This is what we aim for with our "Women in Photonics" initiative.

Recent Events: Panel Discussion and Workshop

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. We were very happy that Esther, Lisa and Najd shared their experiences as women in photonics with over 40 other young scientists during a panel discussion. At this point, many thanks again to all participants who actively participated in the discussion! We networked and exchanged experiences for almost two hours and would like to continue this in the future. 

At a second event, a female empowerment workshop with coach Tanja Kunz, the task was to work on one's own strengths and to become aware of them and to deal with one's own weaknesses. From the two-hour workshop, the PhD candidates and master’s students from the fields of physics and engineering took away tips for their career planning and their future as Women in Science. 26 young women from 10 nations registered for the workshop and used it not only for personal development but also for networking. We are already looking forward to the next "Women in Photonics" event with such great participants!



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