Let’s all stop paying attention to Nobel Prizes!

Every year in Fall when the Nobel prizes are announced I get a little bit more angry. When I was a child and young student I was amazed and fascinated by the Nobel prize, and thought that Nobel laureates are the single most awesome scientists. When I studied Physics at the university my then-lover and I were sure that we will of course one day be awarded the prize, as we loved Physics, were curious about everything and spent most nights and days discussing and deriving and finding problems we wanted to solve. Of course we didn’t do that for some far goal of getting an award, but that award seemed like a natural logic consequence in the life of an awesome scientist.

At the university in Germany where I studied ten years ago all professors were men, literally all, of the some 40-50 professors at the Physics department. Still, when I was a student I didn’t think at all that merit or science awards have something to do with gender – or rather, that natural sciences have something to do with societal issues – because it’s about science, it only has to do with who is talented, intelligent, dedicated, and not with gender, right?
That was then.

I learned about many exciting discoveries, and with that, I learned about the scientists who made them, and some of them were women. Continuing in my studies I started getting more and more doubts about the Nobel prize, seeing my heroines being overlooked year after year.
I used to think it’s sad and unfortunate, but well, maybe next year. Now I see this in a different way, even more so since day before yesterday: it is political.

I started reading a bit about women in Physics, and many of their life stories are sad, heartbreaking and infuriating for the injustice and neglect they experienced, and the merit men got for discoveries women made.

Seven of this year’s Nobel laureates held a press conference in Stockholm day before yesterday. Apparently, to explain the lack of women among Nobel laureates they said things like “Change is coming, but there is a long delay between entering freshman and the Nobel prize.” (Kip Thorne) and “Science has been made by males, for males. It is changing, it takes time, but you will see it, they (women in science) are coming.” (Jacques Dubochet)

Reading these inconsiderate statements now made me furious. I can think of many women who did awesome and undoubtedly Nobel-prize-worthy research but were neglected, ignored, betrayed by men who got the merit and the Nobel prize for their discovery. A few who immediately come to my mind are Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Vera Rubin and Deborah Jin.

So now it’s ultimate. The Nobel prize is a platform for ignorant unthoughtful (unreflektierte) white old men who fail to recognize their privileges to celebrate themselves, reassuring white men in general that they are superior and stabilizing the hegemonial patriarchic order of the society. This is toxic and harmful and we have to get over this.

Apart from all of this there were questionable campaigns like more than 100 Nobel laureates condemning Greenpeace publicly at the Lindau meeting in 2016. Only because someone was awarded this prize doesn’t mean that he understands every aspect of every scientific discipline, but exactly this is the widespread notion that is continuously reinforced, also by the media.

Dear nobel laureates, there is extensive research done on gender-related discrimination in science. I suggest you refer to the literature and revoke the statements you made publicly. Actually, knowing the literature on gender and diversity in science is your duty as privileged white men. But please don’t annoy women, people of color or members of underrepresented minorities by asking them about these issues. Before you do this, it is your duty to go ahead and research the literature, and not the duty of underprivileged people to explain your privileges to you.

Last year there was a public outcry, with the hashtag #NobelforVeraRubin. While last year I thought that was a good idea and also participated in it on twitter and used the hashtag, by now I think this and similar efforts go in the wrong direction. I lost all hopes for the Nobel committee and the academy. First, I thought shaming the committee would be the way. But no, now I vote for ignoring this award altogether. We can all contribute to stop the public idolatry that distorts reality.

The whole issue is of course not limited to the Nobel prize, please also check Katrin’s article on awards of the German Physical Society – Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V.
And discrimination is of course not limited to gender. The white women whom I mentioned and also I myself are and were of course still privileged compared to for example people of color who could have discovered awesome things but didn’t even have the chance to work in science in the first place. The reasons of this article were the statements of the Nobel laureates on women in science, that’s why the article explicitly focusses on this.

Collaborating with Men and Gender-inclusive Workplaces

By Wing Ying Chow, Postdoc at a research institute in Berlin

When asked about the issues facing women in science or more broadly in the working environment, most people probably would think of the fact that women may have children and it would be a challenge to balance work and family life from then onwards. Leaving aside the implicit assumption that women would be “in charge” of family life and therefore find more conflict with the time they can spend at work, is this actually the biggest factor?

From a survey of 954 women who graduated from the University of Cambridge, it was found that the most commonly mentioned career challenge was not actually balancing family and work (22%), but challenges within the workplace itself (38%). This suggested that women’s career issues arise not only because women have children, but perhaps more because workplaces and the associated culture were developed at a time when only men were working, and changes still need to be made to make workplaces more inclusive.

What changes would these be? It is against this background that Murray Edwards College carried out a study titled “Collaborating with Men”, presented on 23 September to an audience of alumni, staff and students. Dame Barbara Stocking, the President of Murray Edwards College, pointed out that previous emphasis has been on “fixing the women”, but the changes required in workplace culture can only be solved by men and women working together. In addition, gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it matters and can have benefit for men as well as women.

To find out what changes can benefit gender equality and to come up with actionable recommendations, 40 men working in a range of sectors including business, civil service and academia (and different career stages) participated in a workshop, several focus groups and some were interviewed to understand what men think about the impact of workplace culture on women and what possible remedies there are.

The study emphasised that men are generally motivated to improve workplace culture. Early career men tend to be more individually motivated and are more open to changing their behaviour, but many tend to think that “the job is done” already regarding women’s issue in the workplace. Mid-career men are busier in their work and personal lives and can see gender issues as yet another thing they have to deal with, but also have more personal experience of the impact of having families on women’s lives. From this, it is clear that men of various career stages can be motivated to champion gender diversity, though continuing to raise awareness will be key for engaging with men in the early stage of their careers when they are more likely to become active allies for gender equality.

Benevolent sexism was raised as an issue that can affect many women in the workplace, where women get channelled into jobs that they are believed to be good at, whether it is more teaching in an academic setting or more caring/managing roles in a business setting. This leads to women staying in mid-level roles rather than being promoted to leadership roles.

One issue that was often surprising to men was that many women feel that their voices are not being heard, for example in meetings, even when the women are in a comparatively senior position. Many women in the audience agreed, saying the greater problem is not just the fact that the expression of their ideas gets interrupted, but also that the same idea gets picked up later on by men who receive credit. On this issue, the men in the study first assumed that women were not speaking up. After some further discussion, it was suggested that differences in tone, phrasing and even pitch of the voice of women that may lead to men’s voices and opinions being heard more than women’s. Based on this feedback, one of the recommendations of this study was to organise reverse mentoring where junior women would mentor senior men or managers, to help those in charge understand how things are like from the women’s perspective.

The strategy of amplification was also raised during the discussion. This is famously practised by the female staffers in Obama’s administration, where ideas offered by women would be repeated and given credit for it by another person, thus making it possible for women’s voices and ideas to be properly heard and credited. Obviously, this would require women to have other allies in the meeting, which brings in another aspect of cultural issues in the workplace — one where men find it easier to form unspoken alliances with other men.

One aspect that the study focussed on was where women are not as integrated into the peer group in the workplace as men, particularly in informal networking. It was highlighted that men and women have different styles and views of networking, where men often maintain larger networks consciously, in case someone they met turns out to be helpful later; women are more likely to join formal women’s networks and also tend to be more transactional, only getting in contact when they have a specific request or offer. Moreover, due to worries of sexual harassment, it can often seem “safer” to interact with people of the same gender. As a result, the informal networks tend to be gender separated. This is, unfortunately, not in women’s favour as men can feel that they cannot sponsor women as strongly as they would sponsor a “good guy” that they have more informal interactions with. In the recommendations of the study, some schemes for building closer relationships were proposed, which not only give more opportunities for networking across genders but can also improve the communication within an organisation in general.

Murray Edwards College is extending an invitation to institutes and companies that are motivated to improve their workplace culture to try out some of the recommendations in their report. To read the full report and recommendations, please see the links below. Jill Armstrong (ja605@cam.ac.uk), the researcher involved in this study, will be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested.


2017 Report: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/news/collaborating-with-men-report-talks-about-changing-workplace-culture
2017 Action plan: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/Report%202%20-%20Collaborating%20with%20Men%20July%202017.pdf
2014 Survey results: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/Women%20Today%20Women%20Tomorrow%20Survey%20Report.pdf

Women in Physics, unite!

Last month I participated in the International Conference on Women in Physics as a delegate of the German Physical Society. Among all fields in the natural sciences, Physics is one with the lowest participation of women. Many organizations today recognize this and support programs to enhance women participation in Physics, some at a national level, and most often these were initiated by women themselves.
With the Working Group on Women in Physics in the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) this issue is brought to the international level, and since 2002 women in Physics meet internationally every three years on alternating continents. This conference is made possible by the personal commitment of women who in addition to organizing a professional academic conference also raised funds for more than 50 travel grants to enable women in Physics from developing countries attend the conference, which deeply impressed me.

The conference itself is special in a way that it combines talks and poster sessions on research in Physics, research on social sciences aspects of Physics and research organizations and reports from the participating countries with workshops in which we worked on ways to make the environment in academic organizations in Physics more inclusive. These workshops were really unique. Each workshop brought together approx. 20-30 women in Physics from different countries, different social backgrounds and different career levels.

I participated in the workshop on gender and intersectionality. Over three days we first reflected on our own identities and how different aspects combine to foster discrimination or privilege. In many aspects we realized that the problem is really not simple and it is hardly possible to bring down discrimination to single, isolated issues (e.g., being a woman) as we all have many parts of our identities which intersect. Many of us also realized that we are not aware of some parts of our identities, especially those which give us privileges. In input presentations we learned about ways of discrimination in other countries which don’t exist in our own cultural background but could be present in our institutions when we work with people from different cultural backgrounds.

We then developed guidelines for ourselves and our country teams and team leaders which all of us bring home to our national organizations. But we also drafted demands to our national organizations as well as to the IUPAP. These demands were later discussed in a plenary discussion with all participants, as were the demands of the other workshops, and were boiled down to a set of a few realistic demands to the IUPAP. I was a bit disappointed by that, because some of our initial demands were rejected by the plenum as being to progressive and unrealistic. I realize that I’m probably to naive and impatient and have no idea about global science policy. But on the other side I won’t give up my impatience because otherwise we will not change much in our lifetimes.

To be honest I must say that that participation in the workshops was quite embarrassing for the national Physical Society of Germany. While in many other countries the diversity issue is well recognized in all levels of the organizations and the work for inclusion is institutionalized, in Germany in the Physical Society the work to mitigate gender discrimination still solely relies on a few women doing volunteer work in their free time, who then often even get discouraged from campaigning for diversity as it might harm their personal careers. While I myself was hesitant to get involved when I first started a few years ago, I now find it ridiculous.

During all this it was awesome and so enriching that the Canadian team had brought a sociologist who participated in and partly led our workshop. This was very hard to manage for them as the IUPAP actually only provides participation in the conference to physicists. We included it in our demands that this policy needs to be changed.
Also in Germany I experienced it so often that we as physicists want to change something in our own organizations, and we meet with physicists from other institutions at conferences, sometimes even with particularly women in Physics, but far too often we are lacking knowledge of the actual reasons for the less diversity in organizations and the best ways to improve it, and here I also vote for much more exchange with the social sciences. In our bill we included the demand that all IUPAP conferences must provide a session on inclusion, resp. diversity aspects in Physics. I’m curious to see its implementation and the further developments.

Congratulations: You are … a man!

When it comes to visibility of women in natural science there is not only a lack in the occupation of high job positions and the promotion of women – also female researchers often get less honored and awarded for their work. The German Physical Society (DPG) – the biggest physical society world wide – has several prizes which they award every year. The two most import and most honourable ones are the Max-Planck-Medal for outstanding theoretical work and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal for outstanding experimental work. Beside that, there are for example prizes especially for young researchers, for good interdisciplinary research and didactic, for technical centered research or for pupils. One prize, the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, is especially for young female researchers (initiated by the working group on equal opportunities of the DPG: AKC). The names of all awardees can be found online on the website of the DPG.

Looking at the numbers of female prize winners, I found somehow alarming*. In total there are 543 awarded persons, and only 48 of them are women. This is just 8.8 %. If one does not take into account the all-female winners of the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, we reach 528 awarded persons from which are 33 women (6.3 %). If  additionally the awardees of the pupils prize (11,0 % female) are omitted, from 355 laureates there are only 14 women left (3.9 %).

There are also prizes without a single women ever awarded. These are 3 out of 11, meaning 27.3 %. One of this three prizes is the honourable Sern-Gerlach Medal (since 1988). Note: The pendant for theoretical physics has exactly one awarded women since 1929: Lise Meitner!

Ok, now some people say the field of physics was long time a full men dominated field but it all changed and there is no discrimination nowadays – let’s have a look on some numbers of prize winners only since 2000:

The total number of awarded persons is 326. From this 45 are female, which means a rise to 13.8 %. If we look at numbers without the Herta-Sponer-Prize, it is 30 women out of 311 (9.6 %), and without taking into account the pupils prize (11,0 %), we end up again with only 8.0 % (11 women out of 138).

Interestingly is the last number mentioned before for all years: prizes without a single women. Looking only at prize winners since 2000 there are 5 instead of 3 awards (out of 11) without a single female laureate – including both the Max-Planck-Medal and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal! These are 45.5 % awards without honoring one single women since 2000 in the biggest physical society worldwide. Wow!

To be recognized in research, to get promoted, to get permanent positions, and a professorship, visibility and publicity is of high importance. And this can be reached for example by getting awarded for your outstanding work. I want to encourage all people who think that these numbers should be changed to take action! There are several prizes and fellowships where you can apply yourself – just try it! For example there is the Emmy-Noether-Program for experienced young researchers (which just changed their regulations to make the program more family friendly) or the Heisenberg-Program for people who head for a professorship (both DFG) .

If you don’t want to apply yourself – then nominate someone else! To mention just a few possibitities here:

The online portal academics is looking in the moment for the “Young researcher of the year” (Deadline for 2017 call: 30th of September 2017). For all mentioned DPG prizes you can nominate persons (unfortunately the deadline for 2018 has already passed, but stay tuned for the 2019 call). And also the GDCh (German Chemical Society) has a list of awards, where you can nominate people for (Deadline for 2018 call: 29th of September 2017).

Are there other awards you have in mind where people can apply for or one can nominate people? Write us here or on our facebook page and get more women awarded!


*The following prizes where taken into account:

Max-Planck-Medal, Stern-Gerlach-Medal, Walter-Schottky-Prize, Gustav-Hertz-Prize, Robert-Wichard-Pohl-Prize, Medal for Natural Science Publishing, Hertha-Sponer-Prize, Georg-Simon-Ohm-Prize, Georg-Kerschensteiner-Prize, The DPG Prize for excellent physics-teaching at schools, School Students’ Prize

The years in which prizes where not awarded to persons are not counted (e.g. Medal for Natural Science Publishing, 2008: “Die Sendung mit der Maus”). The numbers of female / male award winners was counted based on their names. Persons with names which where not directly associated with a male or female person and the respective prize winner could not be found online by further research (7 persons from the School Students’ Prize), were excluded from the numbers.

Sexism in academia

A few days ago an article was published in Science on sexism in academia, written by a postdoc about her abusive supervisor.

Whenever I read such stories they deeply move me. I, too, have experienced similar situations, at different universities, in different countries, on different continents; as the affected person and as a friend or colleague, and with both male and female professors.

Apart from the article content itself the fact that it had to be published anonymously to protect the author concerns me. In our society and in academia in particular the victims (or survivors) of misbehaving supervisors are punished when going public while professors usually don’t have to worry about any consequences.

While writing this post I started describing my own experiences but stopped as it  created a feeling of extreme paralyzation and helplessness in me, while at the same time this is mixed with anger and rage.

Articles on personal experiences of sexism are important as they reveal that sexism in academia is not a personal private problem but a structural one.

When people grow up in a patriachal society and then get the privileges and power of professorship with students who are completely dependent on them, and often even have to leave the country if they have to leave the university (unless they find a legal alien or citizen to marry them) is toxic.

I believe we are now at a point that we have to ask ourselves: do we really want to live in such a society? And is this an environment in which creative and innovative research can thrive?

All sexist and discriminatory behaviour must become socially ostracized!

Here you can find the article in Science which I referred to.

Another interesting recent article is this from CNNtech.

Bibi Blocksberg vs. Wickie

Original title: Audio-visual Diversity? – Gender representation in movies and television in Germany

Authors: Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Prommer, Dr. Christine Linke


Television and movies portrait a gender equal society, right?

I actually never actively thought about this but if anyone would have asked me that question a couple of months ago, I would have said: “Sure.”

The talk by Anke-Domscheidt Berg at the I, Scientist conference in May 2017 (I, Scientist 2017) got me wondering about the real situation in movies and television in Germany by shocking me with numbers like: Only 57% of german movies or movies produced with German cooperation pass the Bechdel-test, whereas 87% of them pass the reversed Bechdel-test. Meaning that only about every second movie has a plot that allows to answer the following four questions with ‘yes’:

– Are there at least two women?

– Do they have identifyable names?

– Do they speak to each other?

– About something else than men or relationships?

That is not only sad, it is a serious deficit that should be obvious and known to everyone. That this is not the case, shows even stronger how much we are influenced by media and used to the pictures we are presented with.

But the shocking numbers go much further than that. With Audio-visual Diversity? the University of Rostock conducted a study looking into the representation of gender in movies and television in Germany. The basis for their study was over 3000 hours of german TV program from 2016 and over 800 german-language movies from the past 6 years (Audiovisuelle_Diversitaet.pdf).

What they found was not only the sad number of movies that pass the Bechdel-test, but they also looked at the absolut number of female and male main characters appearing in german television and the roles of female and male characters in documentaries, series and kids TV-programs. Bad enough that the distribution of female (33%) and male (67%) main characters in television does not represent the real life distribution of the sexes of 50/50, the worst ratio of male to female main characters is found in kids television programs with 28% (female) to 72% (male)! Animal figures are in 87% of the cases male, humans 62%. What the hell?!!!

But not just the protagonists in kids television are mostly male, outside of fiction kids are presented with male experts and moderators from a very early age on. Only every third moderator is female. “Men explain the world”, that seems to be something that runs through the presentation of information throughout the age range. For adults that seems to get even worse leaving us with 79% male experts in TV – information.

As a young girl, where are my role models? As a kid in general, what is the picutre of the world that is presented to me? Experts, the people presented at the top, are male. Apperently even when it comes to fantasy where everything is possible and kids can imagine themselves as whatever they want, that world is dominated by male figures. What do I learn, uncounsiously, from as young as a few years old? Women stay in the shadows. They are not important enough to be displayed for a wide audience, asked for their opinion or independent enough to experience adventures over a wide range of settings (not just pony farm). What does that potentially leave me with as a girl: Being insecure about myself, about what I can do and where I can go. Having uncounsiously accepted men to be the ones to get to the top, to be better than me.

What does that teach me as a boy? It does not reflect the reality of the 50/50 ratio of women and men. Which means it shows me that both sexes do not seem to be considered equally important. It does not bring women into the picutre as knowledgeable, strong, independent and adventurous persons.

And we are asking ourselves where the insecurities of girls and women about what they can do come from….

If we start with programs for girls, to strenghen their selfesteem, help them aim for great things, in Highschool or University, we are fighting windmills. We have to start at the roots and the roots are we, all people alive at the moment, because we are those who shape the world with our perceptions for the next generation. If we don’t start to realize how we are shaped and influenced by the people and things surrounding us, we cannot reach a world or even only a Germany with real equality.



for the details and results of the Rostock University study (German).

Blog online!

The LMG Blog is online!

From now on we will use this platform to post news of all LMG projects and to share our views on gender and diversity in science and society.

Enjoy, and engage!

Blog online!

The LMG Blog is online!

From now on we will use this platform to post news of all LMG projects and to share our views on gender and diversity in science and society.

Enjoy, and engage!