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Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 6

Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 6

Posted on: June 11, 2021

Women in Academia - Q&A - Week 6


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 Ana Clara Birrento, assistant professor in English Literature at the University of Évora.

What would you consider your primary motivations for entering academia?

Teaching, demanding and mandatory constant up-dating of research work, personal intellectual advancement and fulfilment.

What, if anything, made you reluctant to enter academia?

Nothing, despite commuting.

Could you briefly describe the route you took to arrive at your present position?

My first position  at the Department of Linguistics and Literatures, University of Évora, was as a Lecturer of English, since the degree in Portuguese and English Studies was not yet created. So I taught English for Specific Purpose to other Degrees at the University  for one year. After that first year, the referred to Degree was created and I became an Assistant Lecturer teaching English Culture and Literature courses. Meanwhile, I got my Master's in English Literature and later the PhD, also in English Literature, becoming Assistant Professor at the same University.

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?

I am inclined to agree that some years ago, in some areas, mainly in the so called hard sciences, men tended to be overrepresented in the faculty staff. Nowadays, to my knowledge, if one thinks strictly about the issue  - attraction to the profession in academia - I would say it is balanced between men and women in all areas.

Do you feel that there are any challenges you have faced that your male counterparts have not?

Motherhood is undoubtedly a challenge, as well as looking after the household and the next of kin, especially the elderly.

In your time as an academic, have you noticed any changes in women’s roles in the university environment?

During my time as an academic, women's roles have indeed changed, with female candidates to institutional positions, namely rector - currently, the University has a woman rector finishing her second term in office - but also as Head of Department, as well as Scientific and Pedagogic Boards of the University and of the different Schools.

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?

Actually, I already do it, as my syllabus always includes male and female writers.

What advice would you give to women entering academia today?

Never lose sight and focus and make sure that you can make ends meet between a very demanding academic life and your own personal life.