As of January 2020, the GEARING-ROLES partner Estonian Research Council is one of the 21 research organizations funding the initiative AcademiaNet ( – a portal of leading women scientists. The portal is managed by The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), Switzerland’s main research funding organisation. We asked Dr Simona Isler, the gender equality representative for SNSF and the person responsible for AcademiaNet, to share the story of the portal.

Dr Simona Isler, can you tell us a little about the AcademiaNet portal?

The core of AcademiaNet is an online database of women scientists. The excellence of these female researchers is what makes AcademiaNet special. It is not possible to request your profile to be added to the database. Rather, female scientists are nominated for AcademiaNet by renowned research organizations from all over Europe, according to a strict selection criteria. Being nominated for AcademiaNet is an honour for scientists. In addition to the profiles of the women, the website also offers news on gender equality in research.

AcademiaNet was founded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, a German foundation, with the aim of making top-class women in research more visible. The Swiss National Science Foundation took over responsibility for AcademiaNet in 2020. Twenty-one research organizations from all over Europe and the Robert Bosch Stiftung jointly finance the network, and more than 40 scientific partners support the project by nominating women researchers. The science publisher Spektrum der Wissenschaft operates the website.

Who are the women scientists featured on the portal?

AcademiaNet includes roughly 3000 women scientists from across Europe and overseas, covering the whole spectrum of disciplines. What they have in common is that they are among the best in their field. They all meet the AcademiaNet selection criteria, i.e. their academic qualifications are outstanding, their credentials are high and they are leaders of research groups. When nominating scientists for AcademiaNet, the ‘science partners’ can take additional criteria into consideration, e.g. balancing family with an academic career, international experience, teaching activities, social commitment or involvement in research and university committees.

Why is it important to highlight women scientists?

Women are still underrepresented in leadership positions at universities and research institutions. The average proportion of women professors in the EU is only 24% (according to She Figures 2018). In the Natural Sciences and in Engineering and Technology the proportion is even lower at 18% and 12% respectively. The situation is similar in evaluating bodies, appointment committees and research management, in filling panels and selecting keynote speakers. We are therefore still a long way from de facto equality in research. The prejudicial thought that women do not undertake top-level research is persistent. However, the profiles of AcademiaNet scientists prove that there are women undertaking excellent research in every discipline. We want to make this visible. Thanks to AcademiaNet, there are no more excuses for an all-male panel at a conference or workshop.

To whom would you recommend using the portal – who is it aimed for and useful to?

If you are looking for a keynote speaker, reviewer, panellist or a candidate for a leadership positions at a research institution, you can use the AcademiaNet database to find top candidates. Journalists looking for experts and head-hunters who are recruiting highly qualified personnel use AcademiaNet, too. 

Until last year, the AcademiaNet portal was managed by Robert Bosch Stiftung, but now you at the Swiss National Science Foundation have taken it over. What motivated you to start managing the initiative? Is the portal going to remain as it is or do you have any changes planned?

Gender equality is very important to the SNSF. The promotion of diversity in research in a priority in its multi-year programme 2021-2024. When the Bosch Foundation was looking for a managing organisation for AcademiaNet, the SNSF took over responsibility. Together, the SNSF and the Bosch Foundation bear a large part of the costs, initially until 2024. We need to secure the future of the project beyond that date. We also want to raise funds to resume and expand the networking opportunities for the scientists. It is our goal that the project becomes more international. It is quite well known in German-speaking areas. We want to expand the network of organizations that support AcademiaNet and we are looking for new partner organisations in southern and eastern Europe. Additionally, we want to make the project better known throughout Europe. In order to achieve all these goals, we want to work closely with the network organizations. It is important that we work together in a targeted and decisive manner throughout Europe in order to finally give women in research and beyond the place they deserve. AcademiaNet will make a contribution to this.


The Estonian Research Council has been nominating women scientists since 2018. In March this year, 80 new scientists were nominated to the portal. The council nominates all women grantees of national team grants and additionally consults all positively evaluated Estonian research institutions who have the right to submit additional nominees. Estonian Research Council is planning to nominate women scientists also in the future.

The council’s director general, Andres Koppel, thinks it’s immensely important that female researchers have the same opportunities to participate in research as men: “In international terms, we are currently looking pretty good. The fact that we had such a long list to present to AcademiaNet shows that we have many strong researchers in various research fields. This helps promote gender mainstreaming significantly but there is definitely more to be done.”

All Estonia’s this year’s nominees can be seen on the Research in Estonia webpage.

By Loone Vilumaa, R&D Analyst (Estonian Research Council)

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