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Why promote equal opportunities

Carla Schriever

Position: Lecturer for special tasks, Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin in DFG project Gender, Forced Migration and the Politics of Reception

Discipline: Philosophy

Field of research: Critical discrimination research

Department: Center for Migration, Education and Cultural Studies, University of Oldenburg

Website: Fem4scholar

Photo: Courtesy of Carla Schriever

1.Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?

My name is Carla Schriever, and I have a PhD in philosophy from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. It’s always been my dream to be an academic, to research and to teach. I started working early as a research assistant, and then made my way through the jungle of academia step by step. It wasn’t always easy, but it’s definitely been worth the effort. Today I’m working as a lecturer and am a part of a DFG project at the University of Oldenburg. But I haven’t reached the end of my journey yet — since my first day at university, I’ve aspired to become a professor.

2. When did you first become aware of the role of gender in your research environment or at your work place at university?

Philosophy was once jokingly described by a friend from my bachelor’s as the field of old, dead, white men who only wanted to speak to other white men. In the course of my time at uni, I saw how right she was. Many things struck me. In higher academic positions, there were only white men. It bothered me more and more that no one was talking about it. This drove me to start the lecture series “Female Philosophers”, which found a lot of resonance with other students. Even today, students don’t hear the name of a single female philosopher, let alone work in detail on their theories.

3. What challenges have you encountered in academia regarding equal opportunities?

There have been many situations — when I was a PhD student, and my advisor wasn’t alright with me studying the work of a female philosopher; when colleagues told me I would have been further up the academic career ladder if I were a man. And I’m not the only one who’s had these kinds of experiences. In the context of my project Fem4scholar Mentoring, which I initiated in 2018, I hear diverse stories almost every day that all come back to the same problem — the unequal treatment of male and female researchers.

4. What has been your personal experience with equal opportunities offers? What have you taken away from them? 

I’ve taken advantage of several equal opportunities offers in recent years. For example, since I knew at an early age that I wanted to become a researcher, I took part in a mentoring programme at the University of Lüneburg. There I got to know a mentor in Berlin, who I am still in contact with today.

But through my experiences, I realised that many offers are very specialised and also take action at a very late stage. That’s why I founded the programme Fem4scholar for aspiring female* researchers that have already decided for academia relatively early (in their BA or MA). I’ve had fantastic experiences with this programme and have been able to make the way easier for over 100 participants. As my mentor would say, “We don’t all have to repeat the same mistakes.”

In the past two years, I had plenty of beautiful and inspiring experiences with participants in the programme. One scholar from Berlin started participating in Fem4scholar right after finishing her master’s degree. Due to her non-academic surrounding, she knew nothing about the structure and systems in academia. In just 6 months she specialized her research interests, wrote a PhD proposal and got hired into one of the most prestigious research faculties working on ethics and robotics. She works as a research assistant now and is pursuing her PhD at the University of Dresden. Another great example is a participant in the early stages of her bachelor’s degree: She enjoyed her research about Sherlock Holmes so much, she prepared an abstract for a prestigious conference in Baltimore and was accepted. After her talk, people went up to her to ask how long she had been researching and when her PhD would be published. She was just in her third BA semester. Stories like these show that people, especially women and non-binary scholars, need support systems and solidarity to find their own way through the jungles of academia. The project is dedicated to them: Inspiring new scholars, who will change the way we perceive academia today.

5. What do you think still needs to be done?

There needs to be more networking between female researchers and interested, ambitious students who would like to become researchers. There should be more support that helps academia becomes more diverse. This is not just about making the faculty more diverse but also making the canon more diverse in the long term.

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