The compatibility of job and family life is an essential topic for universities and non-university research institutions, as junior researchers in particular often face the challenge of meeting the needs of family and career. On the 25th of January, Junges Wissenschaftsforum Dahlem offered an opportunity to discuss and exchange experiences on the topic.
Four researchers of Freie Universität Berlin kicked off the event. The chemist Prof. Dr. Rainer Haag, father of three, also deals with the family plans of his staff in his position as a supervisor. His advice to them is to not let yourself be thrown by the situation, as there is no such thing as the “ideal time” to have children. Adding to this, Anna Holzscheiter, junior professor in political science, and literary scholar Dr. Anne Enderwitz talked about how they pursue their careers in research both nationally and internationally with their families with lots of creativity and dedication. As the Islam scholar Dr. Roman Seidel agreed, however, the lack of long-term planning and predictability of research careers remains one of the main problems.
But what can research institutions do to create a family friendly working environment? Which measures have proven useful and which tasks have yet to be done? This was subsequently discussed by a panel consisting of the above named speakers as well as the chancellor of Freie Universität Berlin, Dr. Andrea Bör, equal opportunities officer at Charité-Universitätsmedizin, Dr. Christine Kurmeyer, and Dr. Caroline Krüger, officer for strategy and equal opportunities at the Helmholtz Association Berlin.
The panel agreed that the universities and research institutions represented on the evening already have a considerable amount to offer, for example the Dual Career & Family Service at Freie Universität Berlin. However, a more in-depth change of mentality is still necessary. According to Christine Kurmeyer, the preconception that successful research is impossible without full-time commitment still presents a challenge. In addition, more temporal flexibility is necessary, for example in the form of part-time work arrangements for professorships and family-friendly meeting and event times, as Anna Holzscheiter emphasized. The audience voiced the concern that parents are at a disadvantage in comparison to applicants with the same achievements but without children. However, both Andrea Bör and Caroline Krüger are confident that cultural change is underway in this respect. In appointment procedures in particular, the quality of publications takes priority over quantity. Bör pointed out that the Excellence Initiative has forced universities to change their mentality by making equal opportunities a major criterion. “Pregnancy used to be kept a secret” she said. “Nowadays, families are treated differently in academia – they are far more accepted”.