Woman sitting in front of a microscope. Copyright: © Peter Winandy Professor Gabriele Pradel, Head of the Unit of Cellular and Applied Infection Biology and Initiator of Infect-Net

The women scientists' network Infect-Net supports women researchers in networking and establishing themselves within the scientific community. For International Women's Day, Professor Gabriele Pradel, Head of the Unit of Cellular and Applied Infection Biology and Initiator of Infect-Net, explains why the 30s are a particularly critical decade for women – especially for women scientists.

Professor Pradel, how important is it to be well networked in terms of one’s scientific career?

Pradel: Unfortunately, the truth is that a scientific career is virtually impossible without a good network – especially for women. I didn't believe that myself at the beginning of my career. I thought all I needed was to do good research and everything would work out. Unfortunately, that was not and is not the case. Part of establishing a career is joining forces with like-minded people. With Infect-Net, we want to offer young women scientists exactly this opportunity.

RWTH: In which life stage is the path for a successful career set?

The 30s is often the time when it becomes clear whether or not an academic career will get off the ground. This period of life often includes starting a family – for women this almost always means that they have to put their careers on hold for a longer period of time. A smooth transition back to work often depends on a good network or on people advocating for you. Unfortunately, many women leave the field during this time. We can see this in many areas – whether it is science, industry, or politics. Women scientists are underrepresented in leading positions, having bounced off the glass ceiling.

What does Infect-Net offer?

We are a network of about 50 women from all over Germany – most of us from fields such as virology, infection biology, epidemiology, microbiology, and parasitology – who have set ourselves the goal of supporting women scientists in their careers in such a way that they do not suffer any disadvantages compared to their male colleagues. You can call it "lobbying", I think, because that's what scientists also do when we recommend each other for professorships, lectures, and keynote speeches or requests for talk shows. Our fellow campaigner Melanie Brinkmann from TU Braunschweig has the inside scoop: Despite being an outstanding virologist, she only appeared in the media later on; for a long time, her male counterparts Christian Drosten and Hendrik Streeck dominated the scene. We at Infect-Net are planning a meeting at RWTH soon, and in the future, we want to position women in important commissions and found a think tank that objectively evaluates current infection events.