The study carried out by Helena Stensöta, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, was presented in RunAn on December 1. The report was initiated by WiSE, and implemented with the support of the Areas of Advance Life Science Engineering, Information and Communication Technology and Building Futures.
Behind it lies the skewed distribution of faculty positions between men and women at Chalmers – an uneven distribution that increases higher up the career ladder.
– Our goal was to illustrate the selection mechanisms, and understand what the PhD students perceive as positives and negatives of being at Chalmers. We also wanted to see how the relationship between student and supervisor influences the experience, Helena Stensöta explains.
The study is based on in-depth interviews with 18 PhD students – men and women, with shorter or longer time at Chalmers – and four supervisors, randomly selected at four departments: Mathematical Sciences, Computer Science and Engineering, Applied IT, and Signals and Systems.
According to the study, the differences between men and women are small. PhD students talk about the happiness of teaching and of digging deeper into research issues that could make a difference. But they also talk about stress, difficulties to find a role in a homogeneous environment, unclear expectations and elitism that sometimes makes it difficult to ask questions. They think, however, that Chalmers is "better than other places" on issues such as hierarchy.
To manage stress, planning is necessary according to the PhD students. They also mention the importance of having a good balance between work and leisure.
When it comes to more general questions about the pros and cons of academic careers, the interviewed mentioned the large investment required as well as the difficulties of combining a career with family life. And again, the observed differences in responses from men and women were small.
– There’s a lot to discuss, like how the organization could benefit from the fact that PhD students like to teach, or if it really makes sense that everyone should be able to do everything; do research as well as teach and apply for grants. One may also ask how an environment can help people do their best without lapsing into elitism that instead risks excluding people and thus effect the performance negatively, Helena Stensöta says.
– A natural follow-up study would be to ask similar questions to people higher up the academic career, such as Assistant Professors.
The small differences between men and women in the study suggest that general tools can be used to make an academic career more attractive, which is consistent with the equal opportunities policy at Chalmers. Chalmers President Stefan Bengtsson, who both opened the seminar and later commented on the results, see gender balance in academia as very important:
– We can now see a more equitable distribution among our students, but even so, this will not dissolve by itself. The government has given us goals to reach, and we have reached them. I welcome the pressure from outside, he said.
– We need to understand how people look at their time here, and the doctoral level is important to investigate. We know that we are recruiting from a narrow base, socioeconomically too. If we want to get better, we need to attract talents from all groups.
The seminar was concluded with a panel discussion. Johanna Andersson, Chalmers equality representative, said she recognizes the study's results as true for large parts of Chalmers, but there are also extensive variations between departments. Helena Stensöta agreed:
– It is important to take care of the problems in different ways in different environments, and the government’s general requirements can thus become a problem. So yes, adapting this to the various department’s would be desired, but don’t adapt to differences between men and women because they have similar thoughts about his work.
The audiences had so many questions that they could not all be answered, but moderator Moyra McDill read them all out loud. Johanna Andersson then summed up a number of points to bring back to the desk.
Ivan Mijakovic, Director of the Life Science Engineering Area of Advance, commented afterwards:
– The study now presented does not mean that we have reached an endpoint. On the contrary, this is just the beginning. We want to continue and do more, expand and explore more areas.Download the report here!
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photos: Malin Ulfvarson, Mia Malmstedt
Photos, from top to bottom:
Chalmers' President Stefan Bengtsson.
Sara Hun and Helena Stensöta did the study.
Area of Advance director Ivica Crnkovic from ICT, profile leader Bijan Adl-Zarrabi from Building Futures and Area of Advance director Ivan Mijakovic from Life Science Engineering.
Sabine Reinfeldt, Project leader at WiSE.
Stefan Bengtsson talking to Leif Åhman, Karolina Partheen and Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede.
Helena Stensöta in discussions during the coffee break.
The panel: Johanna Andersson, Sofia Månsson, Onur Kaya, Helena Stensöta and Lennart Svensson.