Women in science are still underrepresented, even in Germany. With a share of only 28% of female scientists, Germany is still below the global average and ranks 38th, which is one of the lowest values in a European country comparison. Mijka Ghorbani and Kim Hartmann, who are currently doing their PhD on digital brand personality and brand management in tourism at the University of Strathclyde, explain why working in research can offer an exciting career and why more women should take the step into science.

What motivated you to do a doctorate after completing your bachelor's and master's degrees?

Kim Hartmann: An early key moment was my impressive tourism professor (Prof. Dr. Pamela Heise) during my bachelor studies. I thought to myself, "How do you get other people so excited about a topic and the lectures?" Thus, the far-off dream of becoming a professor myself one day was born. A doctorate is indispensable for this. During my master's studies, one of my professors (tourism luminary Prof. Dr. Adrian von Dörnberg) asked me about the possibility of a doctorate and encouraged me to do so. As a "first generation" student, I was skeptical at first whether this was the right next step for me. In the end, however, I was up for another challenge and when the opportunity arose for the teaching position at ISM with an accompanying doctorate, I didn't hesitate much.

Mijka Ghorbani: The idea of doing independent research excited me early on. I have always enjoyed scientific work and my experience with the master's thesis strengthened my decision to pursue a scientific career.

"I'm fascinated by the idea that people tend to personify brands and build relationships with them."

Mijka Ghorbani, PhD student and consultant in a marketing and advertising agency

What research area are you working in and what excites you most about it?

Kim Hartmann: So far, my research projects have been in the areas of marketing, consumer behavior and/or tourism. The focus of my doctorate is on brand management in tourism and combines the topics that have also accompanied me on my career path so far. I find it exciting how (potential) travelers make their decisions and weigh between the multitude of options. For many people, the main vacation is the most wonderful time of the year, which is why decisions associated with it are even more emotional and personal than in other consumer contexts.

Mijka Ghorbani: I'm doing my PhD on digital brand personality, which is kind of at the intersection of brand management, consumer behavior and psychology. I'm fascinated by the idea that people tend to personify brands and build relationships with them that are very similar to interpersonal bonds such as friendships. My research focuses on how new technologies and digital touchpoints can influence the perception of brands as personalities and thus as relationship partners.

How did your family and friends react to the fact that you are doing a doctorate after completing your bachelor's and master's degrees?

Mijka Ghorbani: My environment and especially my family supported me in this step from the very beginning.

Kim Hartmann: Most people just laughed and asked if I really needed more degrees. However, I have a tip for all those in whose environment someone is doing a doctorate and who are reading this interview. Please spare THE ONE question, "When will you be done with your PhD?". When we're done, you'll be the first to know and through all channels - I promise!

"Doubts are constant companions - especially in science."

Kim Hartmann, PhD student and lecturer for tourism management and marketing at ISM Munich

What have been the biggest challenges so far on the way to your doctorate?

Kim Hartmann: The biggest challenge so far has certainly been balancing a job and a doctorate alongside work. Even with a - on paper - topic-related profession like teaching, you need clear boundaries and good time management. I had to find this balance for myself first and actively learn that even small progress makes a significant contribution to the final result. I went through a similar learning process during my first PhD-related status reviews, as really every proposal and intermediate result is always met with the classic "So what?" question. In the meantime, however, I have found pleasure in it and take many things with humor. This strategy was recommended just the other day in one of the regular research seminars at the University of Strathclyde and seems to me to be a recipe for success to survive in science.

Mijka Ghorbani: Basically, with a PhD, you are more on your own. Unlike a bachelor's or master's program, there are no regular lectures or daily interaction with other students. It's also made more difficult by the pandemic. In terms of content, the biggest challenge so far has been defining the topic and then concrete research questions. Although the research area was clear to me from the beginning, it is still challenging to identify a research gap that is not too small, but also not too big.

In the meantime, did you ever doubt your decision to go into science?

Mijka Ghorbani: So far I haven't. Of course, there are days when there are setbacks or things don't go so well, but that's the way it is in any job.

Kim Hartmann: Doubts are constant companions - especially in science. Every publication, and even more an extensive and time-intensive project like a doctorate, consists of continuous ups and downs. In my opinion, however, doubt is an essential part of science. To "create knowledge" without continuously questioning the status quo and even one's own findings or convictions is impossible and has little to do with research. Not for nothing is it essentially about disproving assumptions and not about proving them.

Were there situations where you were treated differently as women in science or where gender was an issue?

Mijka Ghorbani: No, that never happened to me.

Kim Hartmann: I have the impression that I am very lucky with my direct environment. Unfortunately, this is still not a matter of course when I think about the incidents I hear and read about in various doctoral networks. I do not experience particularly strong double standards. However, I am also confronted with situations in which, for example, mansplaining is practiced, my outfit or my appearance is unnecessarily commented on in larger circles, or in which I am explicitly pointed out for my inferior rank because I "am not yet a professor". Fortunately, however, these points are never an issue in my daily work with students, which gives me hope for the next generation of researchers.

"Since the personnel composition of science still serves very unbalanced stereotypes, every more diverse perspective in research and teaching is a win."

Kim Hartmann, PhD student and lecturer for tourism management and marketing at ISM Munich

In your opinion, what is the reason for the still very low percentage of women in science?

Kim Hartmann: On the one hand, I think it's a classic chicken-and-egg situation. There are only two female professors that I remember actively and positively during my studies, so there were hardly any female role models. However, I have the impression that a lot is currently happening here, partly due to support programs at German universities. On the other hand, academic careers (especially in the university environment) simply take time, and the first years often have to be spent in low-paid and temporary jobs with uncertain development prospects and rigid hierarchies. I can understand every person who decides in their late 20s to take a well-paid job in industry instead of a multi-year doctorate with an uncertain outcome.

Mijka Ghorbani: I think that in science, as in many areas of society, there are still traditional role models that will not disappear overnight. But that's largely not because of a lack of frameworks or opportunities. In our marketing department at Strathclyde, for example, the ratio is very balanced.

Why would you advise more women to take the path to science?

Kim Hartmann: Unfortunately, terms like "professors" and "researchers" are still very masculine, old and white. Even though gendering certainly makes a small contribution (and even some already feel offended by it), it's about one thing above all: representation matters. Since the personnel composition of science still serves very unbalanced stereotypes, every more diverse perspective in research and teaching is a win. And quite unselfishly, I'm looking forward to more women power in science.

Mijka Ghorbani: I think in the end it's a question of personality and whether you have a sustained enthusiasm for scientific work. In my opinion, anyone who does should give it a try, regardless of gender.

What tips would you give to other women who are about to make the decision to go into science?

Mijka Ghorbani: It's always helpful to talk to other students on the same course who are already a bit further along. You can learn a lot about seminars, examination procedures, etc. You should also realize that a doctorate is a learning process. You are practically trained to become a researcher. So it is quite normal that you do not immediately master all the theories, methods, etc. perfectly. It's much more important to keep learning and be open to new things.

Kim Hartmann: Have the courage to go into science. It needs your perspective to be fit for the future.

Dear Mijka and Kim, thank you very much for the interesting insights into your scientific work and good luck on your further way to your PhD.


After completing her Master's degree in Strategic Marketing Management at ISM, Mijka Ghorbani decided to join ISM's PhD program in cooperation with the University of Strathclyde. She is currently working on her first empirical study on digital brand personality. As a consultant in a marketing and advertising agency, she is gaining practical professional experience at the same time.

After completing her bachelor's degree in Tourism & Event Management at ISM, Kim Hartmann initially joined a marketing agency as a project manager. After a change into the tourism sector, a master's degree in International Tourism Management and one in MBA, she is doing a part-time PhD at the University of Strathclyde and has been working as a lecturer for special tasks at ISM Munich since 2018. By teaching and supervising ISM students, she wants to pass on her passion for tourism and marketing topics to young professionals.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Women in Science 2019, FS/2019/SCI/55