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UPGEM Report Summary

Project ID: 518048
Funded under: FP6-SOCIETY
Country: Denmark

Final Report Summary - UPGEM (Understanding Puzzles in the Gendered European Map Brain Drain in Physics through the Cultural Looking Glass)

Over the next decades the general decrease in populations will affect all sectors of higher education and research in Europe. Natural sciences are already facing increasing problems with recruitment, especially of female students to physics. Therefore, it is a matter of utmost concern that well qualified female scientists often leave the research system prematurely and those who stay rarely or never top-level positions or achieve distinguished careers in research and development in the same way as their male counterparts do. These facts have been well documented in a number of studies, notably the SHE-figures, the Helsinki Group Reports and the ETAN - and ENWISE reports.

The primary objective of the UPGEM project has been to identify relevant local cultural-historical processes behind the frustration of female physicists which leads them to leave or plan to leave the field of physics at universities in Europe even though they have the same formal qualifications as their male colleagues.

Even though the overall picture is a dismal one, an interesting configuration of cultural diversity emerges when we observe the gendered European map closely. For one, it seems comparatively easier to attract female students to the field of physics in eastern and southern European countries than in the North. Secondly, career paths also seem to follow different patterns connected to cultural and historical changes. In observing the gendered European map we identify the informal aspect that shape career paths in academic workplaces in various cultural contexts. We also demonstrate how scientific endeavours are interwoven with social and cultural changes as well as changes in the understanding of the discipline of physics.

UPGEM has provided new insights to this field through close-up (qualitative) studies of the work environment of female and male academic staff at physics institutes at more than 20 universities covering the North / South and East / West axes of the European map. The research results are accessible online at and published in a number of publications.

The first project results are presented in 'Draw the line!' universities as workplaces for male and female researchers in Europe, online also accessible as full collection of national reports which contains national studies from Finland, Poland, Estonia, Italy and Denmark of shared themes such as competition, identity, career path and work environment. The lack of female scientists has often been discussed with a reference to the metaphor of 'the glass-ceiling'. In our publication 'Draw the line!' International Conference, Copenhagen May 2008. Papers, proceedings and recommendations we describe a variation in how high or low we have found the glass ceiling to be hanging nationally. This publication also presents speeches from most of the conference speakers as well as the UPGEM partners' recommendations addressed to the European Commission. The UPGEM partners recommend more effective policies countering the lack of careers of female physicists; the first step in this process is to break the cultural patterns of connections that obstruct female scientists' career tracks.

In our third publication, 'Break the pattern! A critical enquiry into three scientific workplace cultures: Hercules, caretakers and worker bees', we put forward an explanation why it is comparatively easier to attract female students and keep female scientists on the career track in eastern and southern European countries than in the North, and that career paths seem to follow different patterns connected to cultural and historical changes. We discuss the processes of exclusion of female physicists in relation to 'physics as culture' and physics in culture'. This publication also takes up the metaphor of the glass ceiling by suggesting that in practice the ceiling is generated by clusters of cultural models forming different sets of ideas about how women and physics might be connected. By identifying clusters of interrelated cultural models, we have identified three ideal type scientific cultures, in 'physics as culture', that seem to support or oppose the connection between women and physics. We name the three culture types the Hercules culture, the caretaker culture and the worker bee culture. All three culture types are found in each of the national settings in the project, but some can be argued to be more predominant in certain national cultures compared to others. The ideals of the scientific cultures shape the female physicists' career paths differently. We also discuss how the national construction of 'class'- versus 'gender'-societies can contribute to different possible career paths. The puzzle of gendered career paths is thereby connected to cultural patterns found in the discipline of physics as well as in national cultural historical processes.

Furthermore, an UPGEM network of researchers studying women in science including UPGEM project partners from Estonia, Finland, Italy and Denmark and a number of other researchers from United States, Sweden, Norway and Serbia has been initiated (and accepted as full conditional member) under the European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS).

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