Cover Story: Careers with Obstacles - Women in Academia

Alone Amongst Men

Sara Negri, Mathematician, Finland

I felt a bit uneasy when I was a Humboldt Fellow in a department in Germany where the only female members of staff were the professors’ secretaries and the cleaning lady. There were also a couple of female doctoral students, none of them German.

In Finland women pursue an independent career and consequently are highly represented in all professions. State childcare is very well organised and caring duties are shared equally in families with children, who therefore are not considered an obstacle to a woman’s career. Still, in academia, there is a sex-related bias between the natural sciences and the humanities.


I work in logic, which is interdisciplinary between mathematics, philosophy and, to some extent, computer science. Male dominance in this field is evident when one looks at the editorial boards of journals, the organising committees of conferences, and the invited speakers at conferences. These things create connections, reinforce one’s CV, and, in the end, make the way to tenure easierellungen.

The issue of gender equality in research is important in my country, but unfortunately the initiatives are mostly directed to the promotion of certain fields, especially “feminist studies”, now called in a more politically correct terminology “gender studies”. This doesn’t help at all women working in hard and competitive male-dominated scientific fields such as logic; on the contrary, it reinforces the idea that there are feminine and masculine disciplines.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 94/2009
Sara Negri  

Dr. Sara Negri teaches Logic at the University of Helsinki. In 2004 and 2005, she spent six months conducting research at the Universität München as a Humboldt Research Fellow. Sara Negri is the mother of three children.