Our female researchers

The University of Münster and our Department advocate for gender equality and strive to increase the number and visibility of women in science. The following experience reports by our female researchers provide insight into the academia of the field of Information Systems. Through sharing their journey, we want to encourage more female students to pursue career paths in science.   

  • Dr. Bettina Distel

    How long have you been working at the department and what are your responsibilities?

    I have been employed at the department since 2013, starting as a student assistant for two PhD students working on the German Research Foundation (DFG) project 'Trust and Communication in a Digitalised World'. Since 2015, I have been working as a research assistant at the department and have continued to contribute to the DFG project. My research focusses on the digital transformation of public administrations. I am particularly interested in what digitalisation does to people, how it changes society's relationship to administration on the one hand and how digitalisation changes work in public administration on the other. I am also involved in teaching, mainly in the first two semesters in the introductory lectures in the Bachelor's programme, but also in the Master's programme, and I supervise theses. It is particularly exciting to be able to accompany students on their way to graduation over a longer period of time.
    Academic self-administration is also one of my activities. I have been a member of our department's Equal Opportunities Commission and Deputy Equal Opportunities Officer for around two years. This is also a very exciting task that has given me a completely new perspective on the faculty.

    What is your academic and professional background?

    I didn't actually study Information Systems: I did my bachelor's degree in Romance studies, specialising in French linguistics, and my master's degree in communication studies. I only got to know Information Systems as a student assistant in the Master's programme. When the two PhD students I worked for had completed their PhD’s, their positions in the project became vacant. This was exactly when I was writing my Master's thesis. And that's when I applied to be their successor at the department.
    Even though
    , at first glance, my studies couldn't be more distant from Information Systems, there are some intersections - in my studies, too, the question of how digitalisation and technology are changing people, language and media came up again and again. These are the topics that inspire me. Ultimately, the reason I switched to Information Systems was to be able to deal with them in depth from an academic perspective. However, in order to be able to do a PhD in Information Systems as a non-specialist, I had to catch up on some courses from the Information Systems degree programme. That was quite a challenge, especially at the beginning, because the degree programme was structured very differently to 'my' degree programmes - but I learned a lot and developed further. Looking back, it was a good decision.

    Information Systems often seems like a male-dominated field of work and research. What motivated you to become an academic in Information Systems as a woman?

    I come from a very female-dominated field and didn't realise beforehand that this could be different in Information Systems. Particularly at the beginning, I had to adjust and familiarise myself with the new environment. At that time, I had already decided to do a PhD in Information Systems. After my PhD, I made a very conscious decision to continue working in Information Systems. I am convinced that it needs many different perspectives. Digitalisation affects all areas of life and our subject should be as diverse as society is. A lot has happened in Information Systems in the last few years: There are great networks and new thematic focuses. I really enjoy being actively involved in shaping a diverse Information Systems programme.

    What are preconceptions about working in STEM-related subjects that aren't actually true?

    For a long time, I believed that the prejudice that STEM subjects are dry and very technical. I am always impressed by the thematic diversity in teaching and research, especially when you have a look at the international community. People with so many different backgrounds, ideas and topics come together, which is something I never used to see.

    What does your typical working day look like?

    Every day is different for me - fortunately, it never gets boring. I am able to organise my work very freely, which I take full advantage of. In addition to teaching events, I have some regular appointments. Since last year, I have been leading a sub-project as part of the DFG research group "Digital Mid-sized Cities of the Future". Together with my colleague David Nowak, we are investigating how trust relationships in cities are changing as a result of digitalisation. We are currently conducting a lot of interviews with people from public administrations - a lot of them digitally, but also in our partner cities - which of course have to be analysed properly. In addition to our sub-project, we are in intensive dialogue with other members of the research group, for example colleagues from the fields of sociology, political science and education. The joint appointments and agreements, the joint research and publishing in the group currently make up a large part of my day-to-day work. I also have regular appointments with students who are preparing their theses or working on seminar topics. Right now, shortly before the start of the new semester, I'm also working intensively on preparing the next courses.

    What has been your most exciting project so far?

    The most exciting project so far has been our research group. We started last year. But the work started long before - with the application for the project to the DFG. The process was very exciting: the idea for a project on the topic of "Digital City" came from Information Systems. First of all, we had a small group discussion about what we could focus on. We quickly realised that we, working in Information Systems, would not be able to serve many perspectives for a good project. That's why we searched for partners from other disciplines, from political science, education, sociology and economics. We didn't know each other well beforehand, there was hardly any joint preparatory work. So we invested a lot of time in the first few months to find a common basis and language. The formal part, i.e. writing and submitting the application, ultimately took almost three years. Seeing the different disciplines come together and develop a common goal, witnessing the formal process and now participating in the interdisciplinary research work ourselves is really a lot of fun.

    Do you have any tips for future female career starters/applicants?

    Be courageous and persistent and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something! Looking back, this is what carried me through the change to Information Systems, through my PhD and also the years that followed. Whether you're at the beginning of your studies, deciding to do a PhD or about to start a new job, sometimes you just need the courage to break new ground. Choosing a subject, a job or a topic that is not so obvious, trying out new ideas and challenging yourself a little. But then it also takes a bit of perseverance to realise your own ideas, to defend them, to find your own way and to stand up for them. And the great thing is, at least in my experience, that this is also rewarded. You meet great people along the way who support you, with whom you can realise ideas together, achieve and build something. Before my first international conference I was very excited. I presented my project for the first time. I had only been working in Information Systems for 1.5 years. I had no idea what to expect and whether my idea might be torn apart. Instead, I received a lot of constructive feedback on my project, but above all I got to know a colourful and very open-minded community. I still work with many of the people I met there for the first time.