3 Questions for the first female professor Maja Krumnacker and Dr. Kristina Wopat from the GraFA

Photo collage: two women side by side
It has been 43 years since Dr. Maja Krumnacker, the first woman, started as a professor at the Bergakademie Freiberg. Today, the university looks at a larger number of female students, doctoral candidates, habilitation candidates and professors. These are supported by the GraFA, among others.

How do you see your role as the first female professor at the university and how has the proportion of women changed since then, especially in the scientific field?

Prof. Maja Krumnacker: I felt very honored to have risen to what was then a male bastion. That was not a matter of course at the time. Even in my studies of metallurgy, I was a novelty. After all, virtually no women were studying or earning doctorates in STEM fields at the time. In my first year, I was the only female student among 100 students in the mathematics lecture. I remained the only female professor at the Bergakademie until my retirement in 1991. That is different today, of course. And in the meantime, more and more women are discovering their interest in an academic career.

Dr. Kristina Wopat (Graduate and Research Academy GraFA): Today, most people take it for granted that women and men work together as equals on a professional level. Without pioneers like Prof. Krumnacker, who showed many female students what is possible for them as women, and without male sponsors, we would still be a long way from where we are today. The path from entering university as a female student to an appointment as a female professor is long, and there is still the so-called "leaky pipeline": At each qualification level, the proportion of women continues to fall. However, results of gender research show that in the environment of committed female professors, who support young women as well as young men, proportionately many more female students enroll and young female scientists decide to pursue an academic career. So this positive role model function that Prof. Krumnacker has performed is still very important today.

What prerequisites should young women have with regard to an academic career and how are they supported on their way?

Prof. Maja Krumnacker: First and foremost, of course, an interest in the university's STEM fields. Only those who enjoy scientific work and are curious to explore new areas will be able to see a doctorate through to the end. This requires a lot of discipline and flow. I often sat and worked until midnight in the evenings, but I enjoyed doing it. And things didn't always progress. Taking steps back and restructuring or rethinking the work are also part of the process. I can only advise young women here: Hang in there, even if they only make progress in small steps and don't see immediate success. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. And I now know many women who have successfully completed their doctorates.

Dr. Kristina Wopat (GraFa): In addition to the joy of scientific work and the passion to follow independent paths and penetrate unknown areas, perseverance and the ability to motivate oneself are also needed. It is about critically reflecting on one's own work, broadening one's own perspective in exchange with other scientists and also working in a team and leading teams. There are no differences between women and men in this respect. The greatest challenge for many young women, however, is to give themselves the confidence to achieve such a feat. Unfortunately, we still regularly experience that many young women rate themselves as much less capable than they objectively are - and there is a big difference between them and the majority of their male peers. Obviously, this unconscious gap in the mind is much more difficult to reduce than the structural hurdles that we have largely removed in recent years.

Our university offers young women excellent conditions on their way to an academic career. Be it the family-friendliness that enables them not to put their desire to have children on the back burner. Whether it's the GraFA's continuing education and counseling programs, the fall camp for female students, the "Young Women to the Top" training and coaching program, funding opportunities for international research internships for scholarship holders, or a network of female scientists at our university that is currently being established: Young women can already acquire skills for successful professional development here - far beyond pure scientific work.  

What do you wish for the future of the university - also with regard to young female academics?

Prof. Maja Krumnacker: I wish that the university may continue to assert itself as a small university among the larger ones and remain the mining academy that it is and continue to go its way in research and teaching. And that more young people again decide to study and pursue an academic career in the technical fields.

Dr. Kristina Wopat (GraFa): I hope that in 10-15 years we will no longer have to report on this topic because we have managed to close the leaks in the leaky pipeline and women and men alike will find their way in science. I hope that many more young women will spread their wings and discover how big they actually are and how fascinating and fulfilling the world of science is.

Female students and scientists at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg

The first female students were admitted to the Bergakademie Freiberg in the 1870s - Mary Hegeler from the USA was the first enrolled female student in 1885 with the matriculation number 3378. In 1921, women were finally admitted to the university on a regular basis. But it was not until the 1950s that the first female graduate (1951) and female doctoral student (1956) appeared at the Freiberg Mining Academy. The first female doctoral student was Waltraud Stolper at the then Faculty of Natural Sciences and Complementary Subjects. Currently, there are about 1,200 female enrollees pursuing bachelor's, master's, diploma, or doctoral studies. Of these, approximately 304 are female doctoral students. 18 women are currently doing their habilitation in Freiberg. For their education, 13 female professors are available in research and teaching at the university at the present time. Since the first appointment of Prof. Maja Krumnacker in 1978, a total of 19 female professors have received a call to TU Bergakademie Freiberg to date.