Antje Baeumner shares empowering wisdom on how she addresses gender equality directly as a professor. Antje is an Editor of Springer journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.
How have you and/or do you work directly to address SDG 5: Gender equality?
As a professor at an academic institution, my main goal is the education of young adults in a fascinating area of science. To the best of my ability and time available, I seek opportunities outside of the class room to enable them to develop to their full potential, women and men alike. While this is an individualized action, encouragement needed is rather similar for younger students of both genders and I use similar strategies across the board. Differences develop later during their academic training when societal pressures become more apparent often associated with thoughts toward future family-related desires, societal acceptance and perceived obtainable goals. Thus, while my initial goal of best educating, encouraging and supporting young students in excelling in their major and leading them toward becoming creative, independent scientist is the same for both genders, I end up spending more time to mentor women ready to step into their future careers. This mentoring is designed toward encouragement to reach for challenging goals, and to continue to trust in their own ability and desire to accomplish significant goals.
Strengthening these great young women and believing in their ability to succeed is one of my best tools to ensure that we keep the pipeline strong and improve gender equality in careers related to chemistry and engineering.
When opportunities arise, I also seek to mentor younger colleagues, especially female colleagues to help them toward a successful academic career. Serving as sounding board, pointing toward opportunities, listening to perceived and real challenges and helping to overcome those, nominating them for well-deserved awards and positions, being available as a friend and colleague all belong to my important activities to help improve gender equality in the years to come.
Yet, there are also those little things we can do to push our maybe less active male and female colleagues toward true action and not only lip service with respect to gender equality. In contrast to some of my colleagues, I don’t mind the extra workload of serving on academic selection and nomination committees because the colleagues we hire and those we promote will be the ones who will help us form the future.
What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG5?
I think that the academic institutions I have had the privilege to be associated with throughout my academic career have made great strides already toward addressing SDG5. I would like to see that those activities that have been demonstrated to be successful become institutionalized and are not seen as short-term activities needed to reach an initial goal. Next, I would like to see, how significantly more flexible work strategies can be implemented to better support a true balance between work and family. We should try to find sustainable strategies that avoid the conundrum young scientists find themselves in, generation after generation: at a time, when we seek to make our biggest career moves we often enough also would love to start a family. How can a decision that leads to an either/or scenario be avoided? The current ‘bean counting process’ of adding a year or two per baby born during one’s career is helpful, but falls more than short of any reality. We need more flexibility, more understanding, more support for all young women (and men) who try to ensure that they have a great career and a loving family. We need a better judgement toward assessing possible lifetime achievements vs. perceived excellence due to an initially jumpstarted career.
What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?
Short-term goals of my research focus on the development of biosensors and miniaturized bioanalytical systems for the sensitive and specific detection of pathogens, toxins and clinically relevant biomarkers for clinical diagnostics, food safety and environmental monitoring. I am interested in understanding, how nanomaterials can be specifically designed for bioanalytical challenges and how these can assist us in developing biosensors for difficult and low-concentrated analytes, that can be fabricated and used locally in resource-limited areas, and are not dependent on a sophisticated industrial infrastructure.
My long-term goals are directed toward a future in which (bio)sensors can provide technological solutions to societal challenges related to human health, safe and secure food, sustainable agriculture and clean environment. In this endeavor, interdisciplinary collaborations, international networks, and interactions with industrial partners are needed, since it takes an entire community to actually address the grand challenges. It takes a village to raise a child and a diverse and smart network to invent, develop and execute new technology for the greater good.
This article has first been published by Springer Nature