EFDA Newsletter (E.N.): Congratulations! You are one of only on average 10% of women in top positions in Europe’s scientific system. Did you have any problems to get your C3-position in 1998 because of being female?

Sibylle Günter (S.G.): Concerning the job, I had no problems at all. The main difference between a man and me in research is that I’m a mother. I had to do childcare and I was glad to have the support of my parents, who helped me to solve this problem. But it was a nice problem indeed …

E.N.: Starting in 2000 then you were the youngest director and scientific member ever at the Max-Planck-Institute. Were you treated equally by your colleagues when you got this position?

S.G.: Yes, of course. I think that things wouldn’t be necessarily easier with a lot of women here. We are four young directors – aged close to forty – and the other directors are aged above 55, but we got along well with each other. When you start, you have to learn a lot anyway – there was nothing special about me being a woman.

E.N.: So, up to now, you have never experienced a strange situation concerning gender equality?

S.G.: Ok, there was one scene at the very beginning of my career when I applied for a permanent position and was clearly rejected because I was a woman. But fortunately there are just a few male professors, who clearly tell you: ‘In my opinion women are not able to do science.’

E.N.: In spite of caring for your daughter, you spend as much time on your job as a man now. If you think about your salary statement, would you prefer to be a man?

S.G.: No – I get the same salary as a man. This might be different in industry, but in the Max-Planck-Society there is simply a kind of ranking and once you have achieved a C3-position you get a fixed salary.

E.N.: Children and family responsibilities have very often a negative impact on a woman’s career in academic science. What is your experience as a mother?

S.G.: My boss was happy for me when he heard that I was pregnant. But a child needs care and you don’t have this time for your career. When my daughter was born, I stayed at home for about one year and then started again with science. I went home early in the afternoon and went back to work late at night. In 1994 I had to go to the US for five months and I left my daughter behind with her father and my parents. This was certainly hard and I would never do it again.

E.N.: What kind of support did you get from your colleagues?

S.G.: Well, for example, when I was staying at home with my little daughter, my supervisor came to my home and we worked together in the evenings. This helped me to stay in the scientific process. But nowadays, also men start to take over much more responsibilities for their children. So the problem of reconsidering family and job will become important for both – men and women – and therefore will be handled much more straightforwardly in future. But generally any kind of support should be in such a way that you are able to fulfill the same requirements as a man, not just get a higher position because of being a woman.

E.N.: What would be the most important advice that you would give to your daughter Stefanie if she wants to become a researcher in a leading position like you?

S.G.: To think carefully about if she really wants to do both – a good job at home and at work. She should be aware of the fact that the time that you have for your family is limited. But I would certainly support her in the same way my parents supported me.

Interview: DL

The percentage of women in Europe tenured as full professors is very low, ranging in 2000 from 5% in the Netherlands to 18% in Finland. In natural sciences, technology and engineering these percentages are even lower. For example, in engineering the figures vary in the year 2000 from 4.6% in Italy to 2.1% in the UK. According to several studies most women are lost to science at the postdoctoral level, where the career path begins, because they feel discriminated against by their male colleagues or because of family responsibilities.

In our interview Prof. Dr. Sibylle Günter (38), who is the Head of the Tokamak Physics Division and a member of the board of directors at Max- Planck-Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching (Germany), encourages young women to withstand the pressure on career and family – it’s worth it.

Find a short CV of Sibylle Günter and more information on our website: