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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Women and science: Engendering European research culture > Maria Founti
Graphic element Maria Founti: Building on success
Maria Founti

Maria Founti is Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, and scientific and technical coordinator of the EU-funded ZEOGYP-BOARD project. Her scientific expertise has brought her much international recognition and she is currently a member of the External Advisory Group for Key Action 1 of the Fifth Framework Programme (Innovative Products, Processes and Organisation).

"Strong academic credentials were an essential foundation for me as a young woman embarking on a career in science," remarks Founti." I chose to study nuclear and mechanical engineering at university in England and upon completion of my PhD I took up employment in Germany. When I decided to return to Greece to continue my career, I found that it was the strength of my academic background that at brought me recognition in a male dominated environment. I think most women embarking on scientific careers face much greater resistance in the workplace than their male counterparts. At the beginning my competence and qualifications were continually being questioned and I had to prove my knowledge and skills on a daily basis. The reality of the workplace for female scientists can come as quite a shock after the sheltered environment of research laboratories within universities. During the early years of my scientific career it was a constant uphill struggle. However, as I progress and become more established in my field I find that other factors for career advancement take on greater importance, such as the perceived degree of devotion and social or networking skills."

Sustainable success

"It is clear that there is still a certain reticence to entrust women with positions which involve a great deal of responsibility and commitment," says Founti. I must admit that I made a conscious decision to have only one child, as otherwise I do not think that I could have advanced to the same extent in my chosen field."

In her role as scientific and technical coordinator of the ZEOGYP-BOARD project, Founti is the link between ten partners from European universities and industrial research institutions. Together they are developing and implementing a new process for cost-effective production of high performance gypsum fibreboard featuring improved core strength and porosity, higher surface hardness and lower production time and cost. Existing plants will be retrofitted to make better use of conventional production lines - a winning approach combining low capital investment with sustainable growth of the sector.

Promoting dialogue

Over the years Founti has actively participated in various EU-funded projects, as project leader or scientific manager. "In my experience I have found that there is not a great deal of communication between women who are members of European committees or working groups," says Founti, "and they are often less open than their male counterparts within the same group. Cultural differences come into play and the issue of the north/south divide is often prevalent. Personally I can discuss more easily with other women from southern Europe than with my northern counterparts. I think more could be done to support communication between women from different regions and to encourage networking and pooling of interests, outside the boundaries of the official committees."

"More efforts must also be made in science education - from secondary school age onwards. Student exchanges between academic institutions in different countries or placement opportunities in industry can be very valuable experiences. It is important for young girls to see for themselves that women are rising to positions of responsibility within the research and technology sectors and to have real 'role models'. A multi-cultural outlook is also an increasingly vital quality for scientists today."

Assistant Professor
National Technical University of Athens
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
Thermal Engineering Section
Heroon Polytechniou 9
15780 Athens
Tel.: +30-1-772 36 05

Sustainable success
Promoting dialogue

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