Woman Scientist of the Month: Marija Brajdić Vuković (12/2019)

Every month EPWS interviews a distinguished woman scientist in 10 questions.

In this section, we are interviewing European women of various ages and disciplines, recognized by the scientific community for their achievements, who are also concerned by the gender-equality goals of EPWS. They are true role models and a source of inspiration for the future for other women scientists.

Read all the Interviews here

This month EPWS gives the floor to Dr. Marija Brajdić Vuković. She is senior research associate at the Institute for Social Research, Centre for Research in Social Inequalities and Sustainability / CRiSIS, Zagreb, Croatia.

At the Library of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb

Contact: marija@idi.hr

EPWS: What made you want to go to science? How did you decide to choose your discipline and your particular field of research? Did you have an inspiring model (parent, relative, teacher, literature, etc.)?

During high school I had a literature teacher that was quite inspiring. It was the time of war in Croatia, but she was full of good un-hateful messages, has led us to (anti-war progressive) events with people from all around the world, we even travelled to other countries, met many interesting people. She strived to make us appreciate different people and cultures in times of vulnerability and hatred. When she left high school and teaching profession, she joined a feminist non-governmental organisation, and we kept in touch. Because of my experiences during that time, I thought that there is more to the researching of, and thinking about society than is usually seen and thought, and therefore I decided to study sociology. During my studies, I’ve learnt a lot about research methodology; I did my first independent research projects for the mentioned feminist NGO, related to the problems of women on the labour market and women and politics.

Later, when almost finishing my studies, I worked on the documentary on the image of women in media, called ‘distorted reflections’, and had a chance to learn from the she-director how to ask various stakeholders relevant questions in the way to have them answered in much detail. It is through that experience and reading that I’ve become very eager to use qualitative methodology in research, and fell in love with it completely. After my studies, I thought there was no other profession that would do, than being a social scientist and research more, especially on the topics related to gender issues. My particular research field of study is science and technology studies, it suits me with its constructivist and interdisciplinary approaches to almost invisible and yet very much influential societal processes.

At the Institute for Social Research Zagreb

EPWS: What is your greatest success as a researcher (and as a teacher if you teach), the one you are most proud of?
Could you share the memory of a great personal satisfaction during your research career with us?

During 2014-2015 I was a researcher in the project on academic profession development in the Croatian science system, managed by researchers from the University of Rijeka. They put me in charge of something that turned out to be a complex qualitative study. What I’ve managed during this period was to teach my colleagues how to conduct such a study, how to analyse and interpret results and how to write about a study. We had many long-hours meetings in person, and online, did a lot of collaborative coding and spent many hours in discussing results. Previously mainly quantitatively oriented, the whole team made a ‘qualitative’ turn in their methodological thinking and fell in love with the methodology. As a result of that we’ve published two books, and two doctoral students on the project decided to take qualitative methodology as the main approach in their dissertations. I feel quite inspired by that accomplishment.

Another thing is related to my students, I was previously employed as an assistant professor and taught various methodological courses and Sociology of Science and Technology for 6 years at the University of Zagreb, at the department of Sociology. Inspired by the various subjects they researched throughout my mentoring, and generally by the activist nerve I was trying to evoke in them, my (female) students successfully organized the first March for Science and Zagreb two years in a row.

EPWS:In which country/countries have you been doing research?

Mostly in Croatia, in various parts of the country. I also collaborate on at least two comparative international surveys, with teams from other countries.

EPWS: What is your agenda for the coming months?

I’ve recently changed my affiliation from University of Zagreb to the Institute of Social Research, Centre for Research in Social Inequalities and Sustainability. In my research I have three parallel interests: one is related to the structural issues of academic systems and professions, the other to the research methodology applications and innovations, and the last one to the role of science and technology in the present and future social sustainability. My role in the centre will be to implement and work on the projects, mainly in the second and third topics. I will be developing two projects: one is related to the influence of technology uses on sustainable environmental values and behavior, and the other one to values (personal and societal ideologies) that are underpinning the development toward economic transition toward sustainability.

Did you meet any barriers (personal/social/structural) during your career as a scientific researcher? Did you benefit from mentoring?

Well, I have a specific experience because I have a child with special needs, which was born before I finished my PhD. When I was on my maternity leave and said that I would have to postpone my returning because my child needs extra care, my supervisor from the project I worked on told me that she doesn’t see how someone with such a child can be fit for a scientific profession, and said that I should probably quit. I don’t think it would ever happen to a man. Of course, I stayed, finished my PhD and am having a nice career in science, mainly because of familial support and support from my colleagues. I have benefited from a lot of different mentoring and peer mentoring relationships, from both men and women in my area of study. From my experience I would say that collaborations with different people can be a constant source of learning and support throughout career.

What is the situation of gender equality in your working field? In the countries where you have been working, were there gender equalities policies and did you experience their effects?
What do you suggest for a better implementation of gender equality in science?

In Croatia there are no specific gender equality policies aiming at science, just the usual antidiscrimination act that has been prescribed through the Labour law. In my research I have often stumbled upon gender issues in science and higher education system. While researching careers of young scientists I have found out that women are less well mentored, have more problems during researching and writing for doctoral thesis, have higher teaching and administrative burden (workload). Policies aiming at gender equality should, in my opinion, be installed on institutional levels, and should tackle workload and promotion questions and, in the case of young researchers, questions of mentoring and support for doctoral research.

2. At the Library of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb

Did you experience networking between women scientists? Can you comment your answer and explain why yes or not?

I did experience networking between women in my field of study, I do have a feeling that there is a lot of support and solidarity between women, in terms of both inviting each other to projects, being familiar with the work of other women, recommending them often when appropriate. Among the younger generation of social scientists, I would say, there is this raised awareness of the need to support each other and, that way, to make things easier and better for women in profession.

If you could start again your life, would you choose again to be a scientist? What would you change?

Actually I would choose the same profession, even the same field of study. I would maybe spend more time on mobility, and would like to work in a more interdisciplinary and international community of researchers.

Could you leave a message to young European women scientists?

In our research we have found out that women who have more diversified (strong relationships with colleagues from different institutions) career rewarding (supporting) networks have better professional outcomes. Mostly those networks are built by the effort of researchers themselves and through collaborations on different projects. It does seem that, nowadays, it is most important for women in science to have a network of supporting colleagues. That is the one thing that improves lives in science and that one can hopefully achieve individually.