Dr. Johanna Ricarda Bruckner conducts research and teaches at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Stuttgart and qualified for the Margarete von Wrangell Fellowship this year. We take this as an opportunity to talk to the head of the Diversity Commission and deputy Equal Opportunities Officer of Faculty 3 about her research and about opportunities and prospects for women in science.
With the Margarete von Wrangell Habilitation Program, the state government of Baden-Württemberg is once again offering funding that is specifically aimed at specially qualified female scientists at universities and colleges in the state of Baden-Württemberg. This is intended to help raise the number of female professors in the state.
Minister of Science Theresia Bauer also emphasizes the importance of this program: “Women with outstanding qualifications should be given the best career opportunities in science and research. This is one of the key concerns of the state government.”
Ms. Bruckner, first of all, we would like to congratulate you on receiving the Margarete von Wrangell Advancement Award and thank you allowing us to ask you a few questions.
Ms. Bruckner, what opportunities does the funding open up for your scientific research?
Being accepted into the Margarete von Wrangell Program is an excellent opportunity and an essential step in pursuing my scientific career. The often precarious working situation for young female scientists, who lurch from one temporary contract to the next, demonstrably reduces productivity, has a detrimental effect on the psyche of those affected and prevents longer-term research projects being undertaken, or the acquisition of third-party funding. The Margarete von Wrangell program secures funding for a research position over a period of five years and enables me to fully concentrate on my research and teaching, without needing to invest time and capacity on applications or worries about the future.
Another great opportunity that arises from the Margarete von Wrangell Program is that I have extensive teaching and examination authorization, including the allowance to guide doctoral students through their doctoral degrees. This allows for a much higher degree of independence than is otherwise common for junior female scientists at this point in their careers, as well as the opportunity to build an autonomous junior research group.
By being accepted into the Margarete von Wrangell Program, I have come a step closer to my goal of habilitation and to being awarded a university professorship in the future. I am looking forward to being able to devote myself fully to this goal over the next few years.
What are your next steps going to be?
A very specific step, which was made possible by my acceptance into the Margarete von Wrangell program, is to submit a follow-up subproject proposal as project leader to the Collaborative Research Center 1333 ("Molecular Heterogeneous Catalysis in Confined Geometries"). This would not have been possible had I not been able to secure funding for my position for the entirety of a potential second funding period. In the event of a positive evaluation, my current research efforts to produce nanometer-scale silica materials with tailored pores would be strengthened with the addition of a doctoral student, and expanded to include electronic property control.
My research also focuses on a further topic, namely the production of functional materials from polysaccharides of biological origin, and for this I have already been able to obtain another PhD position from the beginning of 2022. So now nothing stands in the way of setting up my own junior research group in the near future.
What impact will your research have on society?
My research efforts are concerned with developing a better understanding of physicochemical processes, especially in soft matter, and using this understanding to fabricate functional materials with hierarchical structures. My aim is for these materials to increase the efficiency of existing processes, e.g. in catalysis, or to advance new technologies, e.g. in sensor or actuator technology. Saving energy in process management and the use of renewable raw materials are important motivators here. I hope that my research can contribute to advancing our society both technologically and ecologically.
What opportunities do you see in the funding program, especially regarding young female scientists?
Female scientists often face considerable job and location uncertainty after completing their doctorate, and this can pose a major problem, especially for female scientists. Due to the traditional stereotypes that still exist in our society, but also due to biological circumstances, young women often have to struggle much more with their self-image as scientists, as well as with the compatibility of a scientific career and private life, than their male colleagues. Providing targeted support for women on the path to habilitation can therefore be an important instrument for increasing the still low number of female university lecturers. This could pave the way for improving gender equality in the scientific sector, which will hopefully make such measures unnecessary in the near future. The fact that the Margarete von Wrangell Program emphasizes not only scholarly excellence, but also the active involvement of those receiving the funding in university teaching in their department is an important factor in achieving this goal.
In your opinion, how good are the opportunities for female scientists in Baden-Württemberg?
Overall, the opportunities for women who wish to pursue a successful scientific career are better today than ever before. However, as Vice Gender Equality Officer in the Faculty of Chemistry, I am well aware that the number of women decreases proportionately with progression up the scientific career ladder. For example, the proportion of female students at our faculty averaged 45 percent over the last three years, whereas female doctoral students averaged just 36 percent, and this number dropped to just 13 percent among professors. The fact that Baden-Württemberg specifically supports young female scientists to help them break through this glass ceiling is extremely positive.
What would you like to pass on to young female scientists?
What I always notice in my work with students is that female students often view themselves much more critically and have much less confidence in themselves than is the case with their male peers. However, by no means have I found that that these differing self-images also correlates with the actual abilities of the two groups. Rather, this more critical self-perception and the resulting image, reflects our firm fixation on traditional role models and stereotypes within our society. I would therefore like to encourage young female scientists, students and schoolgirls to pursue a career in science and I would say to them: Be bold! Don't ever let anyone take away your enthusiasm and tell you that you can't do something or that you'd be better off somewhere else. If you have passion, drive and curiosity, you will succeed!
Das Margarete von Wrangell-Habilitationsprogramm
Information about the funding program
The state government of Baden-Württemberg has been encouraging applications for the Margarete von Wrangell habilitation program to promote young women university lecturers since 1997. There have been seventeen selection rounds to date, and 204 female scientists have been or are being funded.
Starting in fall 2021, ten female scientists from the universities of Freiburg, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Tübingen and the Ludwigsburg University of Education will obtain reliable research funding for up to five years. The Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg and the European Social Fund (ESF) will each carry 50 percent of the costs for three years. Two additional years will be funded by the respective university.
Today, the promotion of gender equality for female and male scientists is a top priority in the higher education policy of the state of Baden-Württemberg. And this strategy is showing initial sucsess. In recent years, for example, the proportion of female professors at universities in Baden-Württemberg has risen steadily from just under eight percent to 19 percent between 1999 and 2013; in 2017, the proportion of women was around 21 percent. The Margarete von Wrangell Habilitation Program for Women sees itself as an important component for counteracting structurally induced disadvantages facing women in science.