When Sanne Frandsen launched her idea about a network for female researchers on facebook, the interest was huge. In 8 months, her community has grown from one to 183 women. The group called “Next level” on facebook is about supporting women in academia and helping them to conduct research.
Sanne, why did you start this group and what is it about?
“I felt that there was a lack of forums for female academics where we could discuss specific challenges related to our academic careers. The already existing facebook groups of this kind were often oriented towards the US and the American system. I also found that there was a lack of good female role models. The facebook groups that I was already in weren’t enough, I wanted a Nordic group related to my work identity and to make senior and young female academics come together to inspire and help each other,” Sanne explains.
Has the pandemic made the creation of the group happen?
“Yes, it was not surprising that I came up with the idea during the pandemic. Because of the total lock-down in Denmark many women had to stay at home with their kids, and could hardly continue with their research. Statistics show that the research productivity has decreased during the pandemic particularly for women. I thought that this kind of community might help out”, Sanne says.
Women in academia struggle
Except for creating this forum as the very basis for it all, Sanne had two main reasons with the facebook group: more research done by women and more coaching.
“In this network we can support and help each other in our careers. The group is very supportive and encouraging. The biggest focus for me is basically to make sure that there are more women doing research,” she says.
With her own experience of coaching Sanne got a close up of the needs:
“I started to work as a coach as a sideline and I primarly had academic women working in corporate life as clients. Then I was contacted by a woman who wanted me to coach her since ‘nobody else understands the weird situation we are in’, when we work in academia. This made me realize that there must be others too, who think it’s difficult to get help…”
From her coaching work Sanne knows that many women in academia experience various challenges in example impostor syndrome. This is not one of Sanne’s research fields but she has tried to raise these issues as a point of conversation in the facebook group, to share experiences and highlight how the culture of academic conditions makes us feel like ‘imposters’. Based on that Sanne got the idea of addressing imposter syndrome and ways of handling it, during a week in the group.
Photo: Anna Ågren
Both spontaneous and organized activities
What is the most common theme discussed in your group?
“Two different themes keep coming up: Strategic practical questions related to your career – such as around one’s academic profile: How to create and communicate it, or how do I get in control over the research, how do I make a coherent story out of this…,” Sanne says.
“Another important question is ´How do we make academia more inclusive?´ Academia is organized around critique and skepticism and involves a lot of negative feedback. How can we change that? And learn how to give feedback in a different way?”, Sanne asks.
Within the group all kinds of activities are going on. Some arise spontaneously, others are organized by Sanne. It can be about sharing articles or start conversations on issues that many researchers come across irrespectively of their area of subject. During autumn Sanne has invited four guest lecturers, that will speak on different subjects like life balance, academia dropouts and burn out. They also had a so called ‘writing festival’ which was about planning academic writing and how to be more productive.
“I try to make the conversations and activities in the group as lively as I can, sometimes it’s just fun, we share thoughts and so on. The group is very supportive and encouraging," Sanne says.
Photo: Anna Ågren
Hope for a change
Can your group be a change maker at universities and also in society?
“Maybe. I would certainly hope so. There are far too few women in academia, especially when it comes to the professor level. This is a huge problem for the individual women, for the universities but also for society. This can be my little contribution, my group might help and support women and help them to go further,” Sanne says.