February 11: International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Every year on February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly to give more visibility to the work and research of female academics. At the same time, barriers hindering women and girls from considering a career in research are aimed to be dismantled.
Through various initiatives by students, researchers, and staff, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science actively contributes to shaping a diverse and inclusive university. Among the agents of change are Rahel Arnold, a doctoral student in the Databases and Information Systems Research Group and representative of the "We Are Computer Science" student association, and Anna Bot, a doctoral student in the Algebraic Geometry Research Group and co-founder of the event series "A Slice of...," where experts give talks on diversity.
Rahel and Anna, when and how did your interest in mathematics and computer science arise?
Rahel: I already enjoyed math lessons at school. However, as studying mathematics seemed too theoretical, I decided to study computer science, a subject I had been very interested in for a long time. In the end, I found precisely the application orientation I was looking for.
Anna: Mathematics came easily to me in school, and I enjoyed it. After school, I instinctively chose to study mathematics, but honestly, it wasn't until my second year of study that I was really sure that mathematics was the right choice for me.
What were the highlights and biggest challenges in your school or academic careers?
Anna: My highlight was my master's thesis because it allowed me to think deeply about a topic for the first time. My supervisor and I discussed approaches, theories, and my ideas a lot, sparking my joy in the content and mathematical exchange.
Rahel: A big highlight for me was the programming project in the second semester. In a group of four, we programmed a multiplayer game. I have very positive memories not only of the increase in technical knowledge but also of the teamwork.
When and why did you feel the desire to pursue an academic career?
Rahel: After each stage, there was a suitable starting point for me, so I decided to continue my academic career. At the beginning of my bachelor, I never thought that I would start a doctorate at some point. I could have switched to industry after earning my bachelor’s degree. There are a lot of jobs at the moment, so that would certainly have been possible. However, I felt very comfortable at the university throughout my degree programme. That's still the case, and I'm glad I haven't given up. I really appreciate being able to evolve here constantly.
Anna: I enjoyed studying mathematics a lot, but it wasn't until I was working on my master's thesis that I realized I wanted to stay in academia for the time being. Since I liked the topic and the mentoring style of my supervisor, it was easy for me to decide on a doctorate with him.
What do you particularly enjoy about your daily work routine?
Anna: I can pursue my interests within the scope of my work, which is very valuable. We have a good exchange and a great atmosphere in the research group. Being invited to conferences and seminars is also exciting because there aren't many researchers with whom you can discuss your own little corner of mathematics, which gives me new thoughts every time.
Rahel: My day-to-day work at the university is great! The doctorate allows me to pursue my personal interests in the given research area. I can organise my time very independently. The dialogue within our research group is excellent, and I find it very exciting to exchange ideas with researchers from other institutions worldwide at project meetings and conferences. I also appreciate the fact that we are involved in teaching and are, therefore, always in direct contact with the students.
Why do you advocate for more diversity in your fields?
Rahel: When I started my bachelor’s degree, the proportion of women in my year was around 10 per cent. Now, I want to help ensure that more interested women dare to study computer science and don't refrain from doing so because of the current gender imbalance. Anyone interested should be able to walk into a computer science lecture and realise that they are welcome and fit in.
Anna: I got involved early in my studies at ETH with "Phi:male". I started the "coffee lectures" there to create a place for exchange. I realized early on how important it is in studies to find like-minded people and build a community. Now, here at the department, I hope to contribute with the "A slice of...".
In your experience, what are the advantages of diversity?
Anna: Feeling a sense of belonging is essential—whether thanks to friends, like-minded people, or role models.
Rahel: Everyone brings their own unique perspectives, and we benefit from this diversity in many situations, including research.
What advice would you give to girls and young women who want to pursue a similar career path to yours?
Rahel: Dare to start! Pursue your interests, even if you feel like you have to start alone at the beginning. You will quickly make new contacts and become part of a cool group.
Anna: Don't worry about being alone. There are like-minded people and a work atmosphere where you can find your place and discover the joy of your field of study!
The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science contributes to shaping a diverse and inclusive university through a variety of initiatives. You can find more information here.