Good luck with grant hunting!

harishan-kobalasingam-512738-unsplash-2At this time of the year, academic life in Finland is particularly hectic. The end of September is the deadline for grant applications to the Academy of Finland, the most important research funding agency of our country. It seems that almost everybody is engaged in the application process, either writing research proposals or commenting on others’ plans. This creates a special atmosphere with a mixture of collective support and individual competition. All are participating in a shared endeavour and exertion, yet only very few will have success.

Last summer, I and Sandra Acker (University of Toronto) prepared a presentation for the ISA World Congress of Sociology on what we called ‘grant hunting’. As part of this, we looked at studies on gendered differences in research funding. The findings were ambiguous. Following the general gendered pattern in academia, the common trend seems to be that the number of applications from women is smaller than that of men and accordingly, women receive less research funding than men (e.g. Leberman et al. 2017). However, the studies do not reveal any systematic and clear-cut gender bias in success rates. Furthermore, there are differences between disciplines and national contexts. For instance, a bias in favour of male applicants was found in funding health research in Canada (Tamblyn et al. 2018) but not in the social sciences in the UK (Boyle et al. 2015). According to Tamblyn et al., one reason for the male bias in Canadian health sciences was that funders prioritize basic research and peer reviewers gave lower scores for applied science applications, which acted against female applicants who tended to be interested in more applied topics.

From the gender perspective, it was especially delightful to look at the statistics from the year 2017 on the Academy of Finland funding for social sciences and humanities. In project funding, the overall success rate was 14.9%. Altogether 60 applicants received funding and from these successful applicants 34 were female and 26 were male. In postdoctoral researcher funding, the success rate was 13% and the share of women of the successful applicants was 73%. In academy research fellow funding, the success rate was 11.5%, and the share of women of the successful applicants was 50%.

This is encouraging for female academics writing their applications at the moment. The competition is hard and there are so many things to worry about in the process, but perhaps and hopefully not gender bias.

Oili-Helena Ylijoki 

References:

Boyle, P., Smith, L.K., Cooper, N.J., Williams, K.S., & O’Connor, H. (2015, Sept 9) Women are funded more fairly in social science. Nature, 525: 181–183.

Leberman, S., Eames, B. & Barnett, S. (2016). ‘Unless you are collaborating with a big name successful professor, you are unlikely to receive funding’. Gender and Education, 28(5), 644–661.

Tamblyn, R., Girard, N., Qian, C., & Hanley, J. (2018). Assessment of potential bias in research grant peer review in Canada. CMAJ, 190(16) E489-E499. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/190/16/E489.

The Joy of Being an Entrepreneur

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Have spent the past couple of weeks interviewing female entrepreneurs who use the services of a co-working hub specifically designed for women. Such an interesting experience! These are all women with real drive – full of ideas, projects, visions. . . They love the hub – a life saver for some! Entrepreneurialism can be a lonely business, especially if the business is a company of one as many of those whom I talked with are.

It was also very revealing to see how different ideas about what kind of business one wants are related to life cycle and when in one’s professional life the business was started. Entrepreneurialism has tended to be associated with young people; the images of entrepreneurs are always of smart young men in suits, 30-somethings, working as chefs or in IT. These interviews have been a salutary reminder that it can be women in their 40s and 50s who start up businesses, often as an extension of work they previously did in an employed capacity. That relation between employment and self-employment remains somewhat under-explored – a project for the future!

Gabriele Griffin

Listening as important as making voice

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Some days ago, as I walked through the campus of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) in Sogndal, I saw two students trying to communicate verbal and non-verbal with each other while having headsets and listening to something else. Though it seemed as if they were happy whith their way of communication, the incident reminded me of controversies one observes crossing disciplines and working in interdisciplinary research projects.

I am from the Global South and immigrated to Norway as a teenager. This probably made me even more sensitive to the works done for living between and/or with two cultures, including the hard work of communication and translation. The Nordwit project has given me an opportunity to have new reflections on the ways in which Norway has been introduced to me through Norwegian media and public sector in the past years. I can see the dominant position the discourse of gender equality has had in introducing Norway to immigrants, and especially to non-western ones. An important feature in encounters with immigrants, and in international relations. “Norway is a pioneer for gender equality”, is written in the Norwegian Action Plan from Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Since the 1970s, Norway, through the same discourse, has contributed to making women’s issues relevant in development policies in the Global South and show the synergies between investing in women and earning benefits in terms of economic growth.

My encounter with policies on innovation and digitalization through the Nordwit project tells a different story of the discourse of gender equality in Norway. It seems that gender equality is taken for granted in a way that gender seems to often be considered irrelevant in the fields of innovation and digitalization. I see the need to contribute to translation between Norwegian legacy of gender equality and the fields of innovation and digitalization, which are national focus areas for value creation. Like the work of translation, there is a need to listen and understand both sides. So, as I walk through this journey in the Nordwit project, I hope I remember those two students communicating while listening to something else. Listening is as important as making voice of women’s life histories, barriers and driving forces in technology driven works.

Gilda Seddighi

Reference:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Freedom, empowerment and opportunities: Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020

 

Falling through the cracks?

The administrator came to her with such an expression of condolences that it seemed like somebody had just died. But no. She was just pregnant. She had asked about changing her work contract, since in a couple of months or so she was about to take maternity leave and there would be some working months left over for later. Could she perhaps get a work contract that would cover both her leave of absence and the left over working months? Looking at her with such sad eyes the administrator sighed indicating that this would be difficult. The implication was that this fixed-term researcher probably posed a risk to the organization: she might return from her parental leave earlier than expected and then the university – and not just the project – would have to pay her salary.  The change from an asset to a liability was so fast that it left her head spinning.

The majority of researchers in the Finnish universities are working on fixed-term contracts or scholarships. This puts them in vulnerable positions in many respects. Our tentative findings from career interviews with women in research indicate that the work–family combination still demands the skills equal to those of a trapeze artist. This seems to hold true even though universities have gender equality plans that usually make claims about supporting the efforts of the employees in reconciling family and work. How this support comes true in practice, is still somewhat vague. Often fixed-term employees may find that they are totally dependent upon the kindness and goodwill of their colleagues to let them join projects they are not actually going to be working in because of parental leave.

Research on researchers in fixed-term employment makes visible how the entrepreneurial university is based on internalized control of its employees. There is never a good time to be a mother in academic work and in order to be researchers [women] should be more like men. Attitudes towards employees’ families may be positive as such, but pratices of academic work do not take into account child care or other care obligations. They are a private matter. (Nikunen 2014, 128, 132)

All in all, work and family issues are but one manifestation of the challenges to promoting equality in universities. If researchers mainly try to adapt to the male worker ideal and accept it as it is, how can we find and realize practices that would be included in the gender equality work of universities?

Minna Leinonen

Reference:

Nikunen, Minna (2014) The ‘entrepreneurial university’, family and gender: Changes and demands faced by fixed-term workers. Gender and Education, 26:2, 119–134, DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2014.888402.