European Youth Media Days 2016

The search for research: struggles and joys of being a female researcher in the EU

Text by Stavros Malichudis, Greece


The modern world is rapidly transforming. Technological evolution, the change in the labour market and the need to get answers are affecting global research. In Europe, researchers are working in a highly competitive environment. They need to prove their skills, but also plan their next career moves way in advance. Two female researchers in the EU shared their struggles and joys of with us.

Laura Odasso, an Italian postdoctoral researcher at Université Libre in Brussels, spends her time between her country, France and Belgium. As a Marie Curie fellow, she researches and teaches classes mainly on migration issues.

“Looking back,” she said, “I can’t really remember myself considering a career in academia as an option.” At first she studied Arabic, while she was planning to become a journalist. After having completed a European Studies master’s degree and having gained work experience with human rights’ organisations, she figured out she could use those skills in her research.

Another young academic, Sanne Kruikemeier, is an Assistant Professor of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam. As a first-year student in the university, she was immediately attracted to sociology. And then the question struck her: “Who wants to work for a university?”

She added that the private sector usually attracts the best and the brightest because of higher salaries. Her experience working for a research company after her master’s degree, however, revealed her passion for data analysis and led her back to campus. She started her PhD at the university she now teaches at.

There are approximately 3,300 universities and colleges across the bloc. A 2007 study by the European University Institute suggests that depending on the country, autonomy and compensation of their employees differ. Also, gender inequalities exist. For instance, while a male researcher with up to four years experience in France can earn around €30,000 annually, a German colleague would be limited to an annual salary of €22,000. In Austria, a male academic with seven years of experience could earn €50,000, while a female academic earns almost 8,000 less than he would.

But are researchers satisfied with their choice? Both seem to agree. Their job provides them with the opportunity to travel to different countries, discover and learn every single day. They find themselves in a very competitive environment, but they are happy at work. Kruikemeier said that she has sometimes experienced sexism, but that did not stop her from achieving her goals.

Concerning funding, the experiences differ. Grants provided for PhD research in Italy are not sufficient. On the other hand, being a PhD student in the Netherlands gives you freedom to travel, conduct research around the world and comes with a salary and benefits similar to other university employees.

In both countries research is totally independent. “[I am] not rich, but I can provide for myself until the end of the month”, Odasso comments.

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