Mathias Wullum Nielsen

MSc Sociology Aalborg University, PhD student at CFA 2012-2015

Supervisor: Evanthia K. Schmidt. Co-supervisor: Ebbe Krogh Graversen

How would you describe your job?

I am associate professor at the Department of Sociology at University of Copenhagen where I, like most other researchers, do a mixture of teaching and research.

I have recently received funding for two large projects that will take up a lot of my time in the coming years. One project is about gender and career paths in research, which was also the topic of my PhD project. The other project looks at other forms of inequality in academia.

I am very happy that I have received the two grants because they allow me to invest more time in my research. The money also makes it possible to hire some postdocs to assist me, so I can involve some people with different skills than me.

In addition, I am teaching the course “Knowledge, organization and politics” to sociology students at both Bachelor and Master’s level.

What was the topic of your project?

I examined barriers to equality at Danish universities, especially among researchers. I used several different types of empirical data and methods.

The qualitative part consisted of, among other things, interviews with women who had chosen to leave academia, equality policies at six Scandinavian universities and equality legislation in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Historically, the welfare states in the three countries have developed fairly similarly, but on equality Denmark is lagging behind. The cross-country comparison gave me a much better idea of how Denmark stands out.

In the quantitative part, I studies, among other things, gender-related imbalances in bibliometric measures of researchers’ performance. I had an idea that the way research is judged can contribute to preserve lacking equality in academia.

My PhD joins the ongoing discussion about equality in society. In isolation, my dissertation discusses the question of justice in the academic system. However, I think that its relevance is broader because lacking equality in academia may have consequences for the questions researchers ask and thereby the knowledge that is produced at universities. Ultimately, society risks missing out on some interesting research angles.

How does you PhD degree benefit you in your current work?

During my PhD project, I became involved in many different aspects of the work researchers do. At CFA, I think the distance between what researchers and PhD students do is shorter than in other places. For instance, I got involved in the drafting of several types of grant applications, which are becoming increasingly important at universities. It was therefore easier and quite natural for me to take the next step into the role as researcher because I already knew how things work. It is my impression that in other places, you don’t have to worry about funding until after your PhD. My PHD project also gave me a sense of the importance of interdisciplinarity. Because I worked with people of so many different academic and professional backgrounds at CFA, I feel comfortable moving beyond sociology and into other fields. This is definitely something I have taken with me.

What was it like to do a PhD at CFA?

I experienced a high degree of flexibility and autonomy while working on my PhD. As a PhD student, you always have to try to reach out and create opportunities for yourself, and the environment at CFA was very accommodating in letting me try out the things I wanted. For example, I had wide discretion in planning my research stay abroad and PhD courses. In addition, I was happy that I got a chance to teach, because it is an important experience if you want to stay in academia, which I did.