We interviewed Jen DeWitt and Giuseppe Pellegrini, members of Hypatia’s Gender Panel to find out what made them become interested in gender research, and what they see as Hypatia’s greatest strengths.

We started our conversation with Giuseppe Pellegrini, PhD. Pellegrini is a Member of the Scientific Committee at Observa Science in Society, Italy. His current research focuses on sociology of science, evaluation, citizenship and public participation.

How did you become interested in gender research?
I got interested in gender studies during my doctoral course. Reading many social studies I realized that they were often “gender blind”. Since then I have had the opportunity to participate in various gender research projects. Among these the Iris Project dedicated to the study of boys and girls orientation in science and technology course. In 2010 and 2013 I have been involved in the production of: Women and Science, published by Observa in collaboration with the UNESCO.

What do you find to be the potential in the Hypatia-project?
I believe that the highest point of strength of the project is the systemic approach. Given the complexity of the theme, it is very important to take into consideration different dimensions: cultural, social, knowledge, organization, resources, institution, and policies. At the same time it is crucial not to collect a list of impossible goals, although credible and understandable, but rather try to identify some critical issues to work on and propose development measures.

Jennifer DeWitt, PhD is a Research Associate at King’s College London, UK. She is a researcher on the ESRC-funded ‘Science Aspirations and Career Choice: Age 10-14 (ASPIRES)’ project.

How did you become interested in gender research:
When I was working on the ASPIRES projects, the effect of gender was one that became clearer over time – that is, differences between males and females widened over time in terms of students’ aspirations in science. Even more interesting to me was the relationship between gender and children’s aspirations to become engineers. The effect of gender was stronger than any other factor and this became even more entrenched over time (when they were fourteen). I was also particularly interested in this issue because within my own family, I’ve got some sterling counterexamples: there are loads of engineers in my family. And the next generation down, most of the girls who are headed off to university are headed for engineering. So it’s sort of a personal interest – it gives me a special point of view, even though gender is not always the always the primary focus of my research.

What do you find to be the potential of the Hypatia project
What I find particularly interesting and promising in Hypatia is its institutional focus. So rather than coming up with some programmes and activities, and expecting people to come along and participate, Hypatia has got industry and research institutions on board. I think that’s where people with science careers often end up, and that’s where a lot of the unintended messages about gender are coming from. Schools and informal institutions can do as much as they like, but until you help professionals from industry and research realise what about their practice might be creating problems, you are not going to get at the real root of the problem. On the other hand, research institutions and industry don’t necessarily have the access to the students that the schools and museums can provide. So I think it’s a really good combination that has some real potential to advance the gender issue a bit more.