Ursula Keller wins “Swiss Nobel” Marcel Benoist Prize- for pioneering work in ultrafast lasers
MUST2022 Conference- a great success!
New scientific highlights- by MUST PIs Wörner, Chergui, and Richardson
FELs of Europe prize for Jeremy Rouxel- “Development or innovative use of advanced instrumentation in the field of FELs”
Ruth Signorell wins Doron prizefor pioneering contributions to the field of fundamental aerosol science
New FAST-Fellow Uwe Thumm at ETH- lectures on Topics in Femto- and Attosecond Science
International Day of Women and Girls in Science- SSPh asked female scientists about their experiences
New scientific highlight- by MUST PIs Milne, Standfuss and Schertler
EU XFEL Young Scientist Award for Camila Bacellar,beamline scientist and group leader of the Alvra endstation at SwissFEL
Prizes for Giulia Mancini and Rebeca Gomez CastilloICO/IUPAP Young Scientist Prize in Optics & Ernst Haber 2021
Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to RESOLV Member Benjamin List- for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis
NCCR MUST at Scientifica 2021- Lightning, organic solar cells, and virtual molecules

Equal Opportunities and gender equality

Our work on equal opportunities in science focused on a variety of initiatives to deal with the low numbers of women in our disciplines: from creating networks and peer mentoring for female scientists (ETH Women Professors Forum and MUST Women Scientist Network) to conducting research on the issues for women who work in science, engineering and technology (SET). One regular goal was to remain in contact with the female members of NCCR MUST, and use their opinions and experiences. Another important aim is to communicate the findings and, as such, to develop this website as a resource centre to support women scientists.
Starting in 2010, the NCCR MUST focussed its Equal Opportunity measures on the advancement of women because women were – and still are – clearly underrepresented in our fields (see also Figures below). Our key measures aimed to
  • trigger long-term changes in academic culture, awareness, and governance, and
  • to implement specialized equal opportunity programs.
We embarked to change the academic culture via established and successful international role models, exchange and discussions within the community, and with novel concepts adapted to the situation in Switzerland. On the other hand, the twelve-year funding period of an NCCR offered a perfect timeframe to test different programs and to institutionalize them when successful. Most programs were implemented first at the Home Institution ETHZ before being exported to other participating institutions. For the NCCR MUST, our prime focus was on recruitment, retention, and promotion of more women on all levels, from PhD students to PIs, as well as on inclusive excellence, and academic culture change.

To increase awareness, change governance, and to give role models our main vehicles were:
  • Gender topics during the Annual Meetings, including tutorials
  • NCCR MUST women scientists' network which made sure that all equal opportunity measures, dedicated initiatives, and achievements reached the respective target groups. It distributed knowledge and information, linked to networks, mentoring and career advice services, international professional societies, and recommended books.
  • Dedicated biannual Gender and Science Meetings– during the last eight years organized with the Cluster of Excellence RESOLV (Germany) – offering a unique platform to share experiences and developments, to learn about institutional programs, and to discuss and exchange ideas, open to all NCCR MUST and RESOLV members.
  • Women Scientists Workshops provided a (protected) platform for NCCR MUST women scientists to discuss with and learn from role models and offered networking and exchange opportunities (satellite meetings of the Annual Meetings)
  • Public profile of Ursula Keller
  • #NCCRWomen campaign, short videos of female scientists to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the women's right to vote in Switzerland. They were published on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter and received over 100'000 views.
  • OPN (Optics & Photonics news) column: Reflections in Diversity, started in 2012, with readership world-wide of 20’000 for printed copies and 137’000 through the website, a total of 28 articles written by scientists across the world including South Africa, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, and members of the NCCR MUST network
  • Inspiring Conversations with Women Professors: The Many Routes to Career Success (book) by Anna Garry
and our specialized programs included:
  • Peer mentoring for (female) students at the Department of Physics ETHZ, established in collaboration with the NCCR QSIT under the leadership of Anna Garry. The goal was to improve the learning environment, after deciphering the challenges in structured interviews. As one result, an anonymous grading system (i.e., no name on the exam sheets) has become an accepted standard. The experience is summarized in an article by Vogler-Neuling, Berg, Beck, and Garry.
  • Inter-MUST Women Postdoc Award, the 14 awardees work with two or more PIs in our network on a collaborative research program. The women postdocs benefitted from the interdisciplinary effort and the need to coordinate between two PIs gives them a good learning experience also for their next career step. Several of the grantees now have professor or senior scientist positions.
  • Postdoc Mothers Awardat the Department of Physics of the ETHZ, supports female postdocs who are simultaneously starting a family and pursuing a research career. The five awardees are supported by fully funded four-year PhD student in their research area.
  • Foundation of the ETH Women Professors Forum (ETH WPF), to support networking and strengthen female scientists on a higher hierarchy level with our director Keller as the founding president (2012-2016), motivated by the famous “1999 MIT report”. The ETH WPF received substantial financial and personnel support from the NCCR MUST.

With regards to advancing, promoting, and appointing younger women scientists: e.g., NCCR MUST scientist (now PI) Natalie Banerji became the first female full professor in the Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of Bern. Further examples of successful careers are Giulia Mancini, Alexandra Landsman, Laura Cattaneo, Mary Gosal Matthews. Four female postdocs were awarded the prestigious Ambizione grant. With over 25% women PhD students and postdocs and 20% women PIs the NCCR MUST was well over the notoriously low numbers in physics and chemistry. It is encouraging to see that the number does not drop much between these hierarchical levels. Still, further measures are needed.

Experiences and outlook

In summary, we established numerous gender actions with the goal to raise awareness, to improve governance, and to help increase our gender balance through specific programs. This is important as NCCRs do not only excel in strategic research, but also support young talents and aim to actively promote women’s careers in science (statement SNSF). While some of our measures were clearly intended to advance women, we keep in mind that changes in academic culture is a topic important to all of us: equal opportunity and diversity topics need to be discussed across the entire research community, irrespective of gender, nationality, or hierarchy level. As a program, the NCCRs have acted as an incubator and framework to test ideas, which can be subsequently institutionalized, thereby guaranteeing sustainability after the end of the NCCR.

As an outlook, we recommend that mandatory trainings and workshops on unconscious bias in each NCCR are implemented. When it makes sense, NCCRs should team up to reach a greater audience and to make efforts more sustainable. We also recommend organizing and publishing surveys of issues important to women (professors) at the participating institutions. In previous surveys, it became clear that the culture (i.e., work atmosphere) is central among the issues raised by a large majority of all women (faculty) and a critical mass of women is essential to change the dynamics. On the long run, we believe that more efforts are required to change the culture in STEM fields, and we believe that the project Juno can be an excellent guide to achieve progress faster and more sustainable. The Juno project was specially designed to improve the work culture in physics departments and goes back to the idea of the Athena SWAN award (See OPN Column April 2015). An additional motivation for a culture change could be achieved with an award that is required to obtain public funds. In the project Juno, professors are included in defining the better governance with the motivation for access to funding with independent checks and independent grievance procedures for sufficient oversight – and ultimately credibility – in the existing university culture. We need real benefits for engaging on these issues, for both men and women leadership.
NCCR MUST Office : ETHZ IQE/ULP-HPT H3 | Auguste-Piccard-Hof 1 | 8093 Zurich | E-Mail
The National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) are a research instrument of the Swiss National Science Foundation