Where are all the Women in Science

Despite the 21st century being the pinnacle of civilization as we know it, and social issues have progressed to their imaginable limits, there is a persistent underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, and many factors contribute to this disparity. Having more role models might be a good step towards the solution, so here I present an excellent example: Prof. Dr. Andrea Koschinsky-Fritsche! Andrea was my thesis supervisor during my bachelor’s, and she is one of my favorite professors of all time. Therefore, I believe that she is the perfect example to introduce to people, since I am sure she will inspire them as she inspired me.

"Follow a career path in an area that you are really enthusiastic about, even if it may come with more obstacles."

Andrea Koschinsky

Can and Andrea Holding Can's diploma
Testimonial Can and Prof. Dr. Andrea Koschinsky-Fritsche© Can

Tell us a little about yourself

After studying chemistry at the Technical University of Clausthal, I completed my doctorate and habilitation in geochemistry at the Free University of Berlin. Since 2005, I have been a Professor of Geosciences at Constructor University (formerly Jacobs University Bremen), where I teach in the Geosciences and Sustainable Management of Environmental Resources program, formerly Earth and Environmental Science. My research focuses on trace metal (bio)geochemistry in the marine environment, which includes hydrothermal fluids and plumes as sources of elements to the ocean, estuarine processes as interfaces between land and ocean, and sinks, processes, and fluxes of trace metals in the world oceans as part of the international GEOTRACES program. Another field of activities is marine mineral resources and the environmental impact of deep-sea mining, including interdisciplinary aspects of mineral resource extraction. I have participated in research expeditions in all oceans of the world and have led many of them.
On the private side, I live in the provincial area close to Bremen North so I am close to nature and can go to campus by bike. I have three children (ages 26, 23, and 16) and we are proud owners of a wonderful little dog.

Andrea in front of trees
Prof. Dr. Andrea Koschinsky-Fritsche© Can

When did you first know that you wanted a career in science?

I cannot define an exact time for this first interest in a career in science because it was more continuous and made our work go round. During my studies in chemistry, I realized very soon that a job in the chemical industry would not be the right career for me. I enjoyed doing my own research during my diploma thesis, and when (largely by incidence) I got in touch with the marine science group of the Mineralogy department, their work really intrigued me.

What and who inspires you the most?

When I worked as a student assistant in the marine science group while I was doing my thesis in chemistry, the group was preparing a research cruise to the Pacific Ocean to explore seamounts between Samoa and Fiji for metal-rich ferromanganese crusts. 6 weeks on a research vessel out in the ocean, which sounded so fascinating that I inquired a possible participation and was very lucky to be accepted and was also offered to do a PhD thesis on that project. This research cruise became an unforgettable wonderful experience for me, both scientifically as well as personally. Since then, the possibility to work independently to follow my own research ideas and to collaborate with people from other disciplines to create larger pictures of the topic of interest has been inspiring me throughout my career. This includes regular participation in research cruises to experience the real world.

The person who inspires me most is Alexander von Humboldt. I have devoured many of his books and I have always been excited about his interdisciplinary and holistic view on nature processes and his forward-looking insights. He even predicted climate impacts due to anthropogenic activities more than 200 years ago – while we still haven’t managed to get hold of this problem today.

Andrea on RV Sonne
Prof. Dr. Andrea Koschinsky-Fritsche© Can

Did you observe a change of landscape for women in science throughout your career?

I believe that the conditions for women for a career in science have significantly improved during the past 20 years. There are many opportunities for support such as mentoring programs, family-friendly measures, and special funding programs for women in science to provide equal opportunities. There is a strong pressure to increase the number of female scientists in leading positions including professorships, as well as in committees and boards. However, the latter can also become a problem because I experience above-average requests to join such committees, which is quite time-consuming and leaves me less time for research.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring scientists reading this article?

My advice is to follow a career path in an area that you are really enthusiastic about, even if it may come with some obstacles such as less secure funding and fewer permanent positions. We spend so much time of our lives with our jobs – I could not imagine investing so much time and energy into something that does not enthrall me. There will always be opportunities that come up with time, often unexpected. Be open to recognizing and accepting these opportunities and once you have made a decision, don’t look back, but move on – towards the next adventure!

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