“Cultivate your own agenda and do the best you can!”

07. Juni 2021

You are an Associate Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University. What do you like about being a professor?

Above all, there are two main things that I cherish about my job: The first is freedom. I value the intellectual freedom to pursue my own research agenda and to do so in the way that I find most appropriate. Freedom also covers the flexibility that I have to plan my work life without interference from anyone who wants to micro manage what I do and how I do it. I’ve always had this idea that I wouldn’t do well with having a boss – and in academia, I very much feel like I’m my own boss. The second big thing I value is the relationship to students at different levels. I love teaching, supervising, and mentoring. Being part of the learning process and guiding people on their way is such a privilege. I also learn a lot from it myself. You’d probably be able to find both of these aspects in other jobs, but their combination is quite unique to working at a university, I believe.

During your academic career you spent a few research stays abroad. For instance, you went to Harvard University (USA) as a Visiting Scholar two times. How did these stays impact your research and your academic career?

Yes, that’s true. In 2016, I was invited by Professor Michele Lamont to visit the Department of Sociology as a Visiting PhD, and in 2019 I visited the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs as a Visiting Scholar. Being on a research stay offers new perspective and a chance to reflect on what you do in new ways. During both stays, I’ve been very active in participating in workshops and talks which has been a great way to get inspiration and to meet people. Building relationships to other researchers has been one of the most valuable things that have come out of both research stays.

You once got a Fulbright scholarship for your stay at Harvard. What would you recommend young female scholars that want to apply for such a scholarship?

I received the Fulbright grant in connection to my first stay at Harvard, in 2016. If you want to apply for a Fulbright grant, try to start early (in my case, the deadline was 9 months ahead of my research stay), and focus your efforts on explaining your motivation for visiting the place you have planned – academically as well as personally.

Recently, you received an important research grant in Denmark – Sapere Aude. Congratulations! What is your research project about? And how do you manage all the different tasks of this project?

Thank you! I am so happy and grateful for having received the grant. My project takes its point of departure in an experience that I think many of us have: Immigration is an increasingly divisive topic in many countries. I argue that politicians through their rhetoric have moralized immigration, and as a result, citizens view their existing attitudes as more critical for their political choices and for their relationships to other people. The aim of the project is to contribute to our knowledge about the role that politicians play in moralization processes and how moralization may contribute to making immigration more politically and socially divisive for citizens.The project has not started yet – but I have hired a PhD and a postdoc who’ll both join me in a couple of months. I am very excited about that. To prepare for my new role as research leader, I am participating in a course on leadership development, and I spend quite some time on reflecting on what type of leader I wish to be and how I transform my values into action and output.

What was one of your main challenges during your academic career? And how did you tackle it?

A recurring challenge for me is impatience. Academia sometimes (often?) moves slowly, and that can be difficult if you, like me, find motivation in seeing things happening (i.e. in seeing ‘output’). Rather than trying to fight my impatience, sometimes the best I can do is accept the feeling and turn it around so it can work to my advantage. I try to appreciate all of the small accomplishments along the way (instead of only focusing on the big – and typically long-term – goals). Another thing that sounds very self-indulging but which I think is important, is to sometimes take the time to reflect back on what has happened the past semester or the past year. When I do so, I often realise how much I’ve actually managed to do, even if I momentarily felt ‘stuck’.

In Germany, approximately 24% of the professorships are led by a woman. How is the situation in Denmark? And which advice would you give young female scholars on their path to (full) professorship?

Contrary to the popular image of Denmark as a champion of gender equality, Danish statistics look even worse than the German numbers. 2019 data show that only 21% of full professors were women (in the social sciences, it was 24%, and at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University where I work, only 16% of full professors are women!). I think those numbers are both depressing and, in some odd way, motivating. It is obviously depressing that we’re so far behind with gender equality in the higher ranks of academia (especially since at the student and PhD levels, 50% or more are women). But I am also motivated to contribute to making academia a more diverse place. I think my most important piece of advice for young female scholars (and scholars of any gender, really), is to not think that there is one template that you need to fit into. Instead of trying to look and act like the existing system, cultivate your own agenda, your approach – and do the best you can on your terms. I believe that in the long run that will make you more attractive, and it will make academia more fun and stimulating for everyone.