The gendered nature of independence in the context of research funding and excellence
Publication from Policies
Technologie, Innovation und Politikberatung
Online , 12/2022
The notion of junior scientists’ independence has increasingly become relevant in the evaluation of scientific excellence. In this paper, we deconstruct independence—as an element of excellence—in the context of reviewing a prestigious European Research Grant. Conducting qualitative interviews with this grant’s reviewers, we reveal five different dimensions of how reviewers construct the notion of independence: two dimensions are directly linked to the applicants’ relationship to their supervisors: reviewers were talking about independence as a result of emancipation from the applicants’ (former) supervisor and as a concept that researchers need to negotiate with them. Beyond, three topical dimensions of independence could be identified, referring to originality, networks and mobility. We further show that gender is deeply inscribed into these dimensions, especially when reviewers use their own biographical background for assessing the independence of an early career researcher. These experiences are subject to gender bias through (i) individual stereotypical pictures of masculinity and femininity and (ii) the specific norms of scientific disciplines and structures. These individual gendered constructions of independence might give space to gender bias in the assessment of independence and thus of excellence.