‘Be aware of
between men

Lynda Hardman works for the CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica), the Netherlands’ national research institute for mathematics and computer science, as partnerships and transfer coordinator, is a member of the Management Team (MT) and a researcher. She is also a part-time professor of Multimedia Discourse Interaction at the Utrecht University and Chairwoman of the Board of Informatics Europe.

How did you become involved in science?

‘I graduated in mathematics and physics at Glasgow University. I then started to work for ICL, a large company that used to develop operating systems for computers. I didn’t know anything about that specific topic, but I liked the place and found the work challenging. A few years later a group of colleagues set up a company that was going to sell software (Hypertext). I joined them as a programmer. Really nice and interesting; you could see programming as a live version of mathematics. At that time we had no idea of the significance of Hypertext!

My academic career in computer sciences began when I moved to the Scottish HCI Centre. There I carried out research into information interfaces. So I was dealing with questions like: how do we function as people? How do we take in information? What does that information do to us? Fascinating and inspiring!’

What lay behind the move to the CWI?

‘My husband had to do his compulsory community service in the Netherlands, and I went with him. At first I carried on working for my employer in Edinburgh for a while.

I had a place where I could do my work, initially at the University of Amsterdam and then at the CWI. My boss at the CWI found some money so he could keep me on. During that time I contributed to a project, which was eventually awarded to me. A four-year contract went with this project, on the condition that I would complete my doctorate during that period. I managed to do that and I was given a permanent contract. When a number of people left to start-up their own business I was made group leader.’

Was that the springboard to the MT?

‘To be honest I had no ambition at all to become a member of the MT. But 12 years later there was a changing of the guard in the MT and when I looked around me I thought to myself: ´Why wouldn’t I be the most suitable candidate?` I decided to explore this possibility. At first by talking to people in the organisation. ‘What do you think of me? What would you like me to do?’ As a result of these discussions I eventually became a member of the MT and I have been a member for six years now. I like being able to improve things, such as the level of diversity within the organisation, and this is possible as a member of the MT.

‘At that time we had no idea of the significance of Hypertext.’

The CWI is a great place to work anyway. I have always been able to do my own thing there. It’s actually rather special; an environment where you have al lot of freedom. As long as you publish, you can do what you want. Three years after my doctorate I became a part-time professor, alongside my work with the CWI. First at the Eindhoven University of Technology, then at the University of Amsterdam and since 2016 at the Utrecht University. I hope to stay there until I retire.’

Have you had experience with prejudice?

When I was about twenty I went to a meeting of a women’s network in Edinburgh. The astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell gave a speech. She made a discovery for which her thesis supervisor received the Nobel Prize, and she didn’t. During her speech she emphasised to us: “There are prejudices against women; you really have to watch out for them”. I thought: What nonsense. My generation is still young, and that’s all going to change. It took me a long time to realise that these prejudices still actually exist.

Sometimes when I find myself in a new environment I notice that the men don’t choose to talk to me. I always wonder if that is because I’m a woman. I never have that in Britain or at European gatherings. I notice it mainly in the Netherlands. At first I thought that I couldn’t get into the networks because I was British. After all I hadn’t studied here and hadn’t taken part in the student networks.

But looking back I think there is more to it. We are now thirty years on and I hear other young women saying the same thing: ´There are no prejudices.´ I don’t know how to convince the younger generation that they really exist, and how to deal with them. When I was young I too thought it was all nonsense and I couldn’t see it either.’

What would you do differently, if you could do it all again?

‘Maybe have more confidence in my capabilities. I have always had the feeling that things just landed in my lap, but that was not the case. Looking back I didn’t realise how good I was. At secondary school I was already one of the best pupils, but there are always people who were even smarter. The same was true at university. I was not the best at physics there, but then it was physics after all. I didn’t realise that just following the course was an achievement in its own right.’

Tip: take on a coach!

‘When I joined the MT at the CWI I took on a coach. She gave me just enough information to open my eyes; I started to see how men approach things. I had difficulty personally with knowing when to make my point, and I often interrupted people. I have gradually learned how to deal with this better.’

‘Sometimes when I find myself in a new environment, I notice that the men don’t choose to talk to me. I always wonder if that is because I am a woman.’

Lynda Hardman (September 1960, Glasgow) has been a member of the management team of the  Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (Centre for Mathematics and Informatics) since 2011. In 1998 she completed her doctorate regarding Modelling and Authoring Hypermedia Documents. Since December 2015 she has been working as a part-time professor at Utrecht University.



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