Application for a Humboldt Alumni Award
Ira Didenkulova has submitted a project proposal for the Humboldt Alumni Award for Innovative Networking Initiatives. We wish her a lot of success!

Networking and mobility of excellent women scientists in science, engineering and technology

Women have been widely recognised as a source of untapped potential. Different steps have been taken so far for a deeper understanding of barriers and different obstacles faced by women in the Science field. Present calls in the Science in Society panel in HORIZON 2020 deal with the horizontal and vertical segregation experienced by women in their careers and best practices to manage these issues. The general aim is to foster women participation in all scientific fields with particular regard to male dominated disciplines as SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) and increase the number and the effective representation of women in decision-making positions, to help also speed up the whole process.

While problems related for example to unconscious gender bias in the selection processes and the definition of excellence in Science, the work-life balance and dual career issues have been explored to some extent, the issue of mobility of women scientists has been relatively neglected although being for example strictly related to the mentioned aspects.

There have been quite a few debates and also projects based on extended surveys to understand the role and impact of mobility on a scientific career. Although in general it is true that these issues are sensitive to the country and the scientific field for example, it is believed by the scientific community at least, that there is a connection between mobility and scientific excellence. Rewarding mobility is becoming a concern at the European level as mechanisms to measure in the best and objective way possible scientific excellence are not homogeneous. But still mobility is a key issue to strengthen a researcher’s scientific curriculum and be recognised at the international level.

Moreover, mobility allows to enhance the knowledge and handling of new and different techniques and methods and to improve personal skills of project management and communication of scientific topics.

When the dual career problem was not an issue, it was often taken for granted that a woman followed her spouse whenever he decided or was asked to be mobile. Nowadays, it happens that women decide to be mobile mainly if they are single and often to give up instead for the sake of taking care of their children, spouse, elders and in general their family. Different statistical data show that male scientists are mobile during their whole career continuously and that women may be even more mobile than men but only at the earliest stages of their career, when they do not have to reconcile work and family life.

The problem regards mobility in its most general way, including participation to conferences or accepting a work place which requires commuting. These issues reflect in a decreased capacity to build scientific networks with colleagues in the same field and a reduced flexibility to meet different work possibilities.

Mobility has demonstrated to be partly gender sensitive and this needs to be addressed in some way in order to ensure at least equal opportunities to male and female scientists regarding possibilities and benefits offered by mobility programmes. This is also applied to Alexander von Humboldt foundation, which supports mobility in science by funding either a stay of researchers from abroad in Germany or vice versa. This Project focuses on the networking of women in science and technology paying special interest to their mobility, and should provide mentoring support to those women, who do or plan to do their research abroad.


The networking will be organised through a number of the relevant associations in which the applicant has already been involved and to which she is going to connect during the project. Being a Humboldt, Marie Curie and l’Oreal-UNESCO “For Women in Science” fellow, the applicant already has a rather wide network of excellent female scientists. Moreover, being a deputy President of the Natural Hazard division at the European Geosciences Union and the member of the Outstanding Young Scientist Award committee, she has all means to enlarge this community to women in geophysics. This activity has already been implemented once in 2011-2012 and will be reinforced during this project. Being an active member of the Women in Science working group of Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA), namely GEMS (Gender Equality for Mobile Researchers in Science), the applicant will use all current contacts of this working group, and also strengthen and enlarge them for the purpose of the proposed project. Among the target associations are as follows:

  • GEMS Working Group of MCAA;
  • ECWT (European Center for Women in Technology);
  • EUWIIN (European Women Innovators and Inventors Network);
  • EPWS (European Platform of Women in Science);
  • m-WiSET (mobile Women in Science Engineering and Technology) Working Group of Marie Curie Fellows Association (MCFA);
  • and others.

Applicant is also a founding member of the Estonian Chapter within MCAA, which ensures that the project will well cover excellent female scientists from Estonia and the Baltic States.

Annual workshops

For strengthening the Network we plan to organise annual workshops in collaboration with the associations above and European Universities. Among the potentially interested Universities are the following:

  • Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia;
  • Tartu University, Estonia;
  • University of Bremen, Germany;
  • Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany;
  • University of Kiel, Germany;
  • University of Bari, Italy;
  • University of Salento, Lecce, Italy.

Participation in conferences

To support and strengthen networking among Women in Science we will also participate and propose special sessions, booths and town hall meetings at the major relevant conferences, such as

  • Gender Summits;
  • EuroScience Open Forums (ESOF);
  • International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES);
  • European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assemblies (for networking women in geosciences);

organise workshops and meeting with Women in Science organisations on specific topics, such as

  • Mobility of women scientists;
  • Promote e-Leadership of women scientists;
  • Responsible Research Innovation Gender aspects;
  • Dual Career for mobile women scientists.

Coaching and mentoring

One of important applications of this project is coaching and mentoring of young female scientists, which will be supported in several ways:

  • Publishing e-books on Role Models for mobile female scientists;
  • Publishing papers on Role Models in high-level peer-reviewed journals;
  • Creating an electronic database with a possibility to request mentorship.

E-books on Role Models for mobile female scientists

There is still a gap between female graduates and the pool of female job applicants – even though the proportion of female graduate students and postdocs in most scientific fields is higher today than it is ever been. Therefore we suggest that focus should be placed on examining the real challenges which women need to overcome, particularly when "mobility" comes into play. Role models who have overcome these challenges will continue to play an important part in moving in the right direction, because it may take some time to achieve true gender equity in science.

The benefits gained from the mobility experience and the ease of reintegration afterwards also depend largely on the career stage and country of origin. Challenges may arise in the early career stages, for example just after completing a PhD, when one may encounter a lack of funds or specific equipment necessary to implement new or different techniques. In addition some individuals experience challenges arising from discrimination or scarce opportunities in their own home lands to obtain a stable position. For people facing such issues the availability of role models who have triumphed over similar situations can be inspiring.

Challenges specific to mobility can arise due to family situations; often it can be difficult to fulfil the needs of dual careers. Even when one’s partner is willing and able to relocate, it is not always straightforward to find the partner job or a position close to the one’s new working place. When children are involved, in particular when they are little, special attention must be devoted in order to organise their new life, as well. Therefore role models for dual career couples are needed.

We will develop two electronic books (e-books) of Role Models of excellent women scientists and the role of mobility in their career. It is hoped that reading about successful scientists who have achieved a healthy work-life balance while moving to new locations will be particularly helpful for those individuals considering mobility in their own career. The selection of Role models will be done in the way to support maximal diversity, what regards their (i) scientific field, (ii) age, (iii) country of origin, (iv) destination country, (v) academic and non-academic (industrial) occupation. The last point should also demonstrate to female scientists the alternatives for the academic career.

At least one of the books will be fully dedicated to Humboldt fellows for branding Alexander von Humboldt foundation.

These e-books will be available to be used by coaching programs that support the development of systematic approaches to increasing the representation and advancement of women in science, engineering and technology, since mobility plays a key role in these programs. The stories contained in the e-books will be useful to mentoring or advising program focusing on career, networking opportunities, discussion and grants opportunities in conjunction with mobility.

Paper publication

The results of the project on Role Models in Humboldt and MCAA alumni association and the role of mobility in their careers will also be published in high-level peer-reviewed journals, such as, for example,

  • Nature;
  • Sex Roles (Springer);
  • Women's Studies International Forum (Elsevier);
  • Gender & Society.

Database of Role Models for mobile female scientists

The most innovative implementation of the project is a database of Role Models from several Women in Science organisations offered to the Humboldt Alumni through a portal in a similar way of AcademiaNet.

AcademiaNet was established as a European database for those searching for suitable female candidates for influential academic and scientific positions and was primarily focused on German-speaking women academics. In this scheme, outstanding women academics and scientists were nominated for the portal by AcademiaNet partners; therefore, it was not possible to apply directly.

Our database has a slightly different focus. We are more interested in general networking between excellent women scientists and the role of mobility in their careers. Therefore, we will not limit ourselves to outstanding candidates (e.g. recipients of the Leibniz Prize or ERC Advanced Grant), but rather to successful researchers who found healthy balance between their academic career and family life. We do not see any point in complicating and restricting application procedure, therefore, our database will be open to all nominations, including self-nominations. As it was mentioned before, the database will be primarily advertised among Alexander von Humboldt, Marie Curie and L’Oreal-UNESCO fellows inviting them to apply and nominate their colleagues.

However we like the organization of the AcademiaNet profiles: search options and profile structure, and plan to keep it the same in our database. In addition to this we will implement special section of whether our candidates are interested in coaching and mentoring. In this case they will be eligible to receive coaching and mentoring requests (see below).

Dissemination and exploitation

Finally, we propose to implement a website of the network project to facilitate the dissemination and exploitation of project activities, results, contacts and references. It will be the portal to access the database of successful female scientists as well as the e-book of mobile female scientists.

For higher impact, we will also start social network accounts, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, where we will advertise our Project and Network and highlight all major activities.

All database candidates will also have access to their profiles on the website, so that they can keep them updated and select different levels of security for the provided information (open to everybody /to other successful researcher of the database).

The website will also be complemented by open and closed forums, so that the female candidates can open discussions as within the Network community as open to the general public. In the latter case all followers and readers of our webpage would also be able to participate in the discussion. It is also expected that widely open discussions will be organized with further involvement of other relevant association listed above to have more impact, and highlighted through the dedicated social network accounts.

In order to support younger female researchers we will allow them sending requests to the candidates who are interested in coaching and mentoring through a special link on our web site. These requests will be visible in the candidate’s personal area and the candidates will be able to accept or reject them.

The project will also be supported by a Newsletter to advertise its activities in the communities and associations mentioned above.

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