Kathrin Kirchner is an Associate Professor at DTU Management and a member of the "Implementation and Performance Management" section at Denmark’s Technical University.
Kathrin’s journey into STEM started when she decided to study Computer Science at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, at the department of Mathematics and Computer Science. After finishing her degree, she joined the Management & Economics department at the same university to work on her PhD in Information Systems. Kathrin considers herself to have always been good in mathematics since school, and therefore her maths teacher send her to attend extra mathematics classes in the afternoon. Due to these extra classes, Kathrin got a taste of advanced mathematics, which she loved. At the age of 13, Kathrin participated in her first programming course during the summer break, and from then, she set a goal for herself, which was to become a computer scientist. She used to go to the nearby library to find and read books related to computer sciences, and she always used to come back home with a book about artificial intelligence (AI). All these habits excited Kathrin about the world of AI and computer sciences, and she knew that this is a world she would like to be a part of. Therefore, when it came to choosing a path for her higher studies, there was no doubt that Kathrin wanted to study computer science. Kathrin mentions that during her studies, most of her fellow students and professors were male, but this was never a problem. At a later point, Kathrin did an internship at the IBM Research Center, and she ended up loving the fact that she got the chance to work on a software for the future – that could automatically detect structures in a computer software and transform it to software in a modern programming language. From that time on, she considered becoming a researcher. Sadly, Kathrin had no female role models, but during her first semester at university, she learned a programming language named ADA, which was named after Ada Lovelance, a mathematician and first female programmer – who lived in the 19th century where it was impossible for woman to study at the university. Ada Lovelance inspired Kathrin so much that she decided that she would like to do something as meaningful as her one day.
At the current time, Kathrin works as an as Associate Professor at Denmark’s Technical University at the department of Technology, Management and Economics. Kathrin plays the role of both a researcher and a teacher at the university. Her interests lie in how technology enables people - how technology (social platforms - Teams, Slack, Trello or immersive technologies - virtual reality) can support virtual collaboration and knowledge sharing in companies. She also does research and teaches how analytics on big data influences the working life - how algorithms support decision making, process optimization and working life. Kathrin especially mentions that working as a professor has many different facets, and this is a part she loves about her job. “You work with students - you give lectures, discuss with them, or supervise their thesis’, and this always brings fresh viewpoints. You work with researchers in the whole world on projects. You have the freedom to define your own research topics, read research work of others, and develop new ideas for your own research. You collect information from people, e.g., during interviews or in surveys, and you analyze this data to generate new research findings and write them down. And furthermore, you travel to conferences, present your work and meet new researchers - and you also get to know a little bit the world.” Kathrin is extremely proud of have reached this stage in her life where she gets to work with so many different people and projects that if there is an achievement Kathrin would like to tell her younger self about, then it is the fact that it is a road to become a professor, and there are some challenges on the way, as positions are limited in number and time, often not fulltime, and it requires to move to another city or even another country. Any of this is not easy, but Kathrin is proud to have done and manage it all with grace.
STEM to Kathrin means importance! STEM is important in every part of our lives - and natural science, technological and engineering knowledge is necessary to solve the problems we are currently facing - from climate change, better support for the growing elderly poupulation to further digitalization, so STEM is everywhere. But still many women in the STEM fields find it quite difficult to be a part of the STEM fields, therefore Kathrin believes that the following changes would make life for women in STEM easier:
1) More possibilities for meeting other women in these fields. Kathrin has been an active participant of Women in IT summer studies, where women discuss computer science issues only with other women, participate in courses with female lecturers and network. Conferences have sometimes forums for female scientiest where they can network.
2) More equal chances for women to advance their career, as decision committees for new positions in STEM are dominated by men who also decide for a man as a new employee. So mixed gender commitees would be a step forward.
In terms of how we can encourage girls to join STEM, then referring to computer science, school education is not encouraging girls to go into this field. Computer science classes rely on abstract problems that have to be solved with programming, and this is not interesting, as it is not connected to real life. The stereotype of a computer scientist is a nerd sitting in a dark room with pizza and soda doing programming the whole night, and who looks pale in the face, and does not talk to other people. On top of that, it is always a male that people picture. But computer science has many facets, and it has so much to do with people and it is something that really matters. But besides of making computer science in schools more interesting - by solving problems that really matter - girls should have the possibility to see what they can do with a STEM education, and what other women have achieved within STEM. So girls should be given better chances of visiting universities to see what they can learn as STEM students, but also different workplaces, to get a better impression of different STEM professions.
Lastly, here are Kathrin’s closing words of encouragement for young girls who want to join a STEM field:
“STEM is a field that offers you many different exciting ways to solve problems for the future, to work together with and support people - and you can be part of this exciting journey. Go for it!”
You can contact Kathrin Kirchner on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathrinkirchner/
I thank Kathrin Kirchner for taking part in this project and answering all the questions in a very informative manner. I hope, your experience and STEM story will inspire a young girl to join a STEM field and excel just like you have.