Posted on: May 28, 2021
Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 4
The status of women in academia has changed considerably over the last few decades, with more opportunities and careers contributing to a more level playing field. But there remain obstacles, and the situation varies from subject to subject, from institution to institution. We spoke to a range of women from across the world about their perspectives on academia, how the situation in higher education for women has changed over the years, and the issues they still face.
This week's interviewee is a professor of English Language and Translation. Like last week's interviewee, she works at a university in Italy, and has asked to remain anonymous.
What would you consider your primary motivations for entering academia?
I had a naive idea of what academia would be. I imagined a world where I could carry out research only. My love for research was the primary motivation for entering academia.
What, if anything, made you reluctant to enter academia?
At a certain point I decided to change my career. I was so frustrated that I could not freely express my ideas and I had to follow unsaid rules. The Italian academy is extremely conservative.
Could you briefly describe the route you took to arrive at your present position?
It took me ages. Italian law requires national and local competitions for academic positions. I started as an adjunct researcher (junior lecturer) in 2001; after 4 years I took part in a local competition and had my post as a researcher (lecturer). Five years later I had another local competition where I had the second position. I was appointed Associate professor five years later. In the meantime,the Italian academic world underwent a national reform: anybody who would like to start an academic career had first to have a national teaching habilitation through a national competition. I managed to have my national habilitation in 2019 and became a Full Professor of English language and translation in 2020 after taking part in a local competition. I was appointed as pro-vice chancellor for education in 2015.
I have nevertheless 180 hours teaching and carry out my research as usual (at the moment I am the national PI of 2 EU projects under the Erasmus KA+ program and have just applied for a national grant as a PI).
In all this, I never forget I also have a family: I am married and have a son.
For many courses, men make up the majority – or even entirety – of the staff, while even for some subjects that are generally more popular amongst women, such as literature, men tend to be overrepresented in the faculty staff. Do you think that men are, on the whole, more attracted to a profession in academia than women are?
Men are attracted by power rather than by academia. They would not have the same popularity if they did the same thing in a secondary high school.
Do you feel that there are any challenges you have faced that your male counterparts have not?
Oh, yes. Everything I say has not the same value as the very same thing said by my male colleagues. Most of the time, I am mansplained things.
In your time as an academic, have you noticed any changes in women’s roles in the university environment?
Yes. Women are slowly having more preeminent positions.
Some universities have recently proposed to diversify their curricula by prescribing books and articles from a more diverse range of authors. Do you think it’s important to include a variety of male and female authors on the reading list for your course?
I am not sure about that: I check the solidity and validity of a text. Frankly, I never check who wrote the book. Famous authors may say nonsense but are accredited simply because they are famous. Being a man/woman does not mean what they say is the absolute truth.
What advice would you give to women entering academia today?
Keep up the excellent job.