MINDtheGEPs Open forum on Large scale international research infrastructures


Diversity is a crucial factor in advancing both scientific and societal progress. This was highlighted in a MINDtheGEPs Open Forum discussion on 21 March 2023 with Antje Vollmer, head of the working group “Training, Outreach and Dissemination” of LEAPS, the League of the European Accelerator-based Photon Sources in Europe. The conversation focused on two key aspects of diversity: creating an atmosphere of acceptance, respect and trust, and promoting barrier-free cooperation. The discussion also delved into specific actions in initiatives required to foster inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-discrimination, and how science can facilitate more inclusive cooperation by removing existing barriers.

Despite the fact that scientific research is based on objectivity and rationality and often thought to be insulated from issues of discrimination, researchers continue to encounter systemic inequality and limited opportunities. LEAPS is an organization that is educated to promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their work. They are committed to fighting against discrimination and creating equal opportunities for everyone. During the Open Forum, Antje Vollmer talked about her personal experience in different projects, where she almost always uses to be the only female scientist. However, as the scientific community is gradually becoming more diverse, we see more and more women pursuing careers in science. According to Antje Vollmer, that this change did not occur spontaneously, but rather resulted from the evolving scientific landscape. For instance, the ability to work from home has been a crucial factor in promoting gender equality.

Discrimination is ingrained in our social and cultural interactions, often unintentionally. While open acts of discrimination are rare in science still unconscious bias happens day-to-day. It is crucial to see these habits and implement measures to create more inclusive and fair scientific institutions. According to Antje Vollmer, inclusion begins with information, and there are many prejudices and misconceptions when it comes to women in science. The presentations put emphasis on leading by example as a female scientist, and highlighted the importance of being a role model. By challenging stereotypes, women can pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable scientific community. During the Open Forum, the participants discussed how to increase the representation of women in the energy sector, which is a crucial issue for the future and is currently seen as a male-dominated field. According to Antje Vollmer, in order to make that happen, we need to start educating young individuals early on, and promote female involvement at an early age. According to her, political pressure and efforts to highlight the importance of science in finding sustainable solutions can inspire young people, and especially young girls, to get involved. 

The conversation also covered the topic of globalization, bringing us all closer together. The internet facilitates the free exchange of information worldwide, which means that global challenges can be tackled collaboratively. Nevertheless, unequal opportunities, disintegration and national self-interest poses challenges to international cooperation. Antje Vollmer emphasized the significance of international cooperation as a vehicle for peacekeeping and societal advancement, highlighting the potential for such collaborations to act as cultural bridges between countries. Scientists can trust each other and it’s a peaceful collaboration and research network can unite diverse global scientific communities, with a joint purpose of scientific progress and a strong societal dedication. Antje Vollmer also highlighted the importance of collaboration for sharing knowledge with countries that have not progressed as far as we have in many European countries. Science diplomacy holds a great significance for Antje Wollmer. A part from being a speaker of the synchrotron facility BESSY II, the inclusion of Africa into the global knowledge exchange, sharing infrastructure and expertise, and paving ways to global collaboration is her most important “pet-project”. Collaboration is necessary especially for people that cannot attend to our conferences or read our publications, otherwise, they will be excluded from knowledge, something that Antje Vollmer emphasised has to stop. One primary focus is to create pathways for African countries to access and benefit from shared research infrastructure and expertise. By promoting science diplomacy, particularly through the involvement of large-scale research infrastructures, we can contribute to bridging gaps, promoting mutual understanding and nurturing profitable collaboration between African countries and the rest of the world.

About the speaker

Antje Vollmer studied chemistry at the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München and obtained her doctorate in surface science from the Free University Berlin. In addition, she spent one year in Stanford USA and 3 years in Cambridge UK, before she joined BESSY. 8 years at the experimental floor preceded her current position in science administration and management at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB). Her particular focus is in supporting excellent science as well as promoting international cooperations.

In 2020 she launched and became Head of the Task Force IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-discrimination) of LEAPS, the League of the European Accelerator-based Photon Sources and is a member of the Research and Development Board of LEAPS. In 2021 she became head of the working group “Training, Outreach and Dissemination” of LEAPS, which merged with LEAPS IDEA in 2022. In 2021 she became the facility speaker of BESSY II.

By Märta Karlén

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Last modified: 2023-08-25