An Excellent Research Environment for International Scholars: On the Way to the Top

Anna Stejskalova 
		 © WWU / WiRe - Nikolaus Urban

Anna Stejskalova © WWU / WiRe - Nikolaus Urban

The number of female students is on the increase worldwide, yet in academia women rarely reach the top of the career ladder. One of the reasons is that in the rush hour of life (i.e. between the ages of 30 and 45) many gifted female researchers start a family. This curbs their career prospects to a much greater extent than is the case with their male colleagues. Dr Giulia Marotta, who is an Italian church historian, and Dr Anna Stejskalova, who is a bioengineer from the Czech Republic, are both determined to get to the top. Both of them were awarded a WiRe - Women in Research scholarship. The scholarship programme was set up conjointly by the University of Münster and the German Research Foundation in order to encourage more women to embark on an academic career. Like six other gifted post-doctoral scholars, these two women spent several months doing research in Münster. Between September 2018 and February 2019 they gained tantalizing insights into the prospects for top-flight scholars.

The Best of Three Subjects
Dr Anna Stejskalova found that the University of Münster offers ideal conditions for acquiring a deeper knowledge of the subjects in which she is interested.

When she was at school, biology, maths and chemistry were her favourite subjects. She decided she wanted to become a bioengineer when she saw a TV documentary which showed how scientists cultivate artificial cartilaginous tissue in order to improve patients’ quality of life. She studied bioengineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague and later pursued her studies in Ireland and the Netherlands.

She is currently doing research on endometriosis, a common gynaecological disorder for which there is still no cure. Between six and ten per cent of all women suffer from this condition. Tissue grows out of the uterus and spreads on the fallopian tubes, ovaries or peritoneum and causes severe pain and in some cases even infertility.

After winning a WiRe - Women in Research scholarship, she came to Münster, where she carried out research from September 2019 till March 2019. In her opinion, Münster offers ideal conditions for acquiring a deeper knowledge of the subjects in which she is interested. ‘The University of Münster has an excellent reputation in reproductive medicine research.’ At the University Medical Centre Anna Stejskalova joined Prof Martin Götte’s research team and studied the mechanisms which enable cells to spread from one part of the body to another. ‘The work done in Prof Götte’s lab might one day contribute to the development of specific therapies for endometriosis,’ she explains.

The Czech scholar was deeply impressed by the research environment, the city, and the support she received from the University. She spent much of her leisure time at the Aasee or on the Promenade , the green ring that encircles the city centre. She was particularly struck by the fact that the University has done a great deal to help scholars to reconcile professional and family life. Thus, for instance, there are childcare facilities close to university buildings, and extra funds have been made available to enable women to take part in conferences. ‘Female scholars derive enormous benefit from such facilities. They can start a family while continuing to move up the career ladder,’ says Anna Stejskalova.

Research as an Adventure
Working at the Centre for Religion and Modernity has given Dr Giulia Marotta a real fillip.

As a child, she imagined that a scientist’s life was like the lives led by the characters in an Indiana Jones film - exciting, dangerous, and adventurous. Giulia Marotta is currently exploring new topics, discovering hitherto unknown connections, and embarking upon ambitious projects. ‘My work as a church historian is definitely adventurous and exciting. Unlike Indiana Jones, however, I don’t have to deal with snakes and bugs,’ she says with a laugh.

A professed Catholic, Giulia Marotta took a keen interest in questions of faith during her graduate studies. When she went to university, she chose cultural anthropology and ethnology as her main subject. After finishing her PhD studies in history at the University of Palermo in conjunction with the University of Savoy (France) and the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg (Germany), she pursued her postdoctoral studies in Switzerland, France, and the USA. As a ‘Women in Research’ scholar, she worked in Münster from November 2018 till February 2019. During this stay she concerned herself with the Roman Catholic nun Maude Petre and her views on the modernist movement within the Catholic Church at the beginning of the twentieth century.

How did women view the modernist movement? Can findings relating to this movement be transferred to other religions and their dynamic power with respect to political and social change? The Centre for Religion and Modernity is the only institute of its kind in Germany. What Giulia Marotta liked most about this Centre was the fact that, through its close cooperation with the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics, scholars from different countries and disciplines have countless opportunities to exchange facts and opinions, thus empowering their research projects and outcomes with novel, interdisciplinary perspectives. In addition, having access to extensive specialized collections on the history of Christianity and benefiting from a conducive environment and a personal work station, allowed Giulia Marotta to conduct cutting-edge research and achieve all her WiRe Fellowship goals. Doing research in Münster has given her a great many tantalizing insights into the prospects for top-flight scholars. ‘I think the help and support provided by people who work at the WWU was excellent and absolutely unique. It really made the difference!’

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