Posted on: June 4, 2021
Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 5
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 Rosalía Baena Molina, a professor of English in the Linguistics faculty at the University of Navarra.
What would you consider your primary motivations for entering academia?
After I graduated, I thought that the best possible job for me would be to teach college students English Literature, so I went on to graduate school in Salamanca to become one. In graduate school I became fascinated with postcolonial literatures and literary theory.
Both at the University of Navarra and the University of Salamanca, I met very committed professors and I guess they were role models for me, so I knew that I would be very happy becoming a university professor.
What, if anything, made you reluctant to enter academia?
I always felt that academic writing and publishing was especially challenging and hard for two main reasons. First, English is not my first language, and second, I had not been sufficiently trained in academic writing itself. I felt very insecure for a long time.
On the other hand, I was quite worried about getting a job after I finished graduate school. I wrote my dissertation in Spanish and that was a big mistake since most of my colleagues could not read Spanish. I started with a wrong foot but I have learned a lot from that since then.
Could you briefly describe the route you took to arrive at your present position?
When I got my PhD at the University of Salamanca, I was hired by the University of Navarra right away. I was really lucky. I have worked there since 1997. I got this position because I did some years as an undergraduate at the University of Navarra and they knew me.
Getting my PhD was not easy, though. My supervisor did not help me along the way. At the time, I thought that was a common thing and I was a self-made academic to a large extent. That was also very helpful in a way to find my own voice and my own ways in academia. I feel I am not quite independent.
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?
In my experience, it is quite the opposite. I find more women than men at conferences. I do not think men are overrepresented in Spain at least. What I find is that they tend to like administrative positions such as head of department, dean and the like, much more than women. At the University of Navarra, that is not a problem since there is a similar number of men and women in administrative positions, but I find that there are very few women as presidents of universities in Spain.
I have been a dean for 8 years, and it is not a position I am willing to come back too. However, my male colleagues tend to consider these positions as a positive achievement.
Do you feel that there are any challenges you have faced that your male counterparts have not?
I have four children, and my husband is also an academic. The first and most obvious challenge is that I have had four maternity leaves. It is extremely difficult to catch up with research and publishing when you are so sleep deprived.
The second challenge is to meet male faculty who could not really tolerate a woman and with a lower academic title to be their boss. I have been the Dean of the School of Humanities for 8 years, and they were condescending and patronizing at times. But I have managed well since I have found very few cases, and the institution supported me at all times. I guess other women are not so lucky.
In your time as an academic, have you noticed any changes in women’s roles in the university environment?
Women have been in the English Departments in the Spanish university since the very beginning, so I have not noticed any major change.
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 understand the point of wanting to include both male and female authors in a course reading list. But I think that it should never be prescribed. Professors should enjoy academic freedom at all times. In English literature, I do not need to make any extra effort to include women in my reading list. They are in the reading list because they are good writers, not good women writers. I am not going to leave William Shakespeare out because he was a man. There are other ways to teach our students about gender equality. How did he or other authors portray women? I tend to focus on the text and the reader, rather than the author in my teaching.
What advice would you give to women entering academia today?
My first advice would be to choose the best possible academic adviser who can help them not only with their academic discipline but also with the right work/family balance. Second, I would tell them to prioritize their family life, always, because that is what really matters. There is nothing compared to the joy and fulfillment of family life. There is no point in prioritising publications and tenure. Finally, I would tell them to plan ahead, and to be very focused on what they need to do to achieve tenure and to become excellent teachers. Academic life can be attractive in many different ways, and it is often the case that both men and women try too many different paths and lack focus in their research.