Sabine Wieland - "I didn't think I stood a chance"

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She is Professor of the Year 2015: Sabine Wieland. Out of almost 1,600 nominated professors, a jury led by the former chairman of the German Council of Science and Humanities, Professor Winfried Schulze, selected a total of four professors.


Sabine Wieland

Sabine Wieland is one of the two woman to receive the coveted title. She has taught communications and media technology at the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig (HfTL) for 15 years. *

For students, colleagues, university staff and company representatives, you are Professor of the Year 2015. Did you expect this?
Sabine Wieland: No, I didn't think I had a chance of winning this competition – especially because I teach at a relatively small university." Fourteen days before the end of the competition, I checked online to see who I was competing with. When I saw the colleagues from the University of Munich, I definitely didn't think I'd be chosen. In that respect, I was really delighted – because this award is also recognition for the students and for Deutsche Telekom, which supports the university."

... And you were selected not just for your teaching, is that right?
Sabine Wieland: Yes, it is. I'm also chair of the Leipzig STEM network and speaker of the Leipzig regional group of the computer scientists' association, Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V. In addition to teaching courses I've also set up a new competition for software development technology at HFTL, SWE, which stands for "Software and engineering." The competition asks students to develop innovative solutions for current problems in the telecommunications industry and other industry sectors. There were two reasons that motivated me to start the competition: First, I was experiencing a certain motivational crisis myself at the time. And I wanted to give students a new opportunity. The competition starts anew each semester. The students in the cooperative study programs use state-of-the-art communication tools and work collaboratively. That's additional motivation for them.

You are deeply involved in STEM subjects at the university and the "MINT Zukunft schaffen" (Creating a STEM future) initiative. What drives you? Did you have role models or people that shaped and supported you?
Sabine Wieland: I didn't have any role models. My father was a computer scientist but I took my own path. At that time in the GDR, schooling was different than it is today: Girls were challenged and encouraged in science subjects such as chemistry and physics. At first, I wanted to be a weather expert – but there were only two apprenticeship openings in Potsdam. My father found me an apprenticeship as a computer scientist at a data processing center in Berlin. Since I left school after the 10th grade, I completed my school leaving exam after my apprenticeship. And since my scores were good enough, I was then sent to study. I can still remember what my father said: "Then you'll study computer science and can become anything you want to be." The path proved to be a good one and the right one – I'm a practice-oriented person.

Do you have any strategies for guiding more women into technical professions or in a technical direction? Do you have any opportunities to influence that as a lecturer?
Sabine Wieland: As a lecturer, I don't have too many opportunities to do that, since the students have already chosen their subjects. The STEM network at schools offers better opportunities in that regard. They have live practice days where you can introduce yourself and present your work. At these events I rarely include on my profile that I'm a computer scientist, since there are still some preconceptions: "You work down in the basement sitting in front of your PC and have no contact with people." But the reality is different. 20 to 25 percent of my work is analysis: You ask the customer what kind of solution they need. Listening and communicating is actually more of a typical woman's task. I can organize the work myself and take my time to get it ready. That's an advantage if you want to keep a balance between work and your personal life.

Are we too male-dominated? Do our role models and the way we raise young women shape their educational and job choices?
Sabine Wieland: Certain roles are favored and adopted very early on, namely in preschool. It begins with gender preference for certain colors. In that respect, we as well as parents need to work on a broad front. It starts at school: Around 50 percent of school subjects are now linguistically oriented. The rest are distributed. In my view, not enough attention is paid to STEM and technical subjects. And having tablets for the teaching content instead of heavy books would be more practical for students, and the content wouldn't get outdated so quickly.

In addition, we need to get rid of the preconception that computer science as a subject is not family-friendly. In fact, the opposite is true. I can set my working time and place more or less myself. Today's mobile working options make it even easier. And I practice it too – I'm there for the kids when they need me and I do my preparation for the university in the evening. I once even held a mobile tutorial from a sailboat.

* The title of "Professor of the Year" is awarded to professors who demonstrate that they are truly career companions. They teach not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills, and provide direct contacts with the industry. Students, company representatives, professors and university staff can vote in the nationwide competition sponsored by the alumni magazine "Unicum Beruf"