First episode of the series “Women in Research”: Prof. Dr. Sybille Kunz

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Sibylle Kunz was appointed professor and programme director for media informatics at IU International University after completing her doctorate in digital humanities (photo: private)

Sibylle Kunz is the first doctor of Digital Humanities and is connecting her love of technology, knowledge and people.

Self-employed IT expert, university lecturer, mother, and pursuing a dissertation project at the same time – much to do, but Prof. Dr. Sibylle Kunz has mastered it all. Her hard work has payed off: not only was she awarded her doctoral title in October 2020, the first doctoral student of Digital Humanities, for her project on everyday utility of digital reading media, but she was also appointed professor and programme director for media informatics at the IU International University!

Sibylle Kunz shows that a career path can lead to a professorship via detours, because for her, the pieces of the puzzle came together over time, bit by bit. She is therefore an ideal candidate for the start of the series “Women in Research”, which during the summer term will be regularly presenting a female researcher of the faculty or connected to the faculty like Prof. Kunz.

Sibylle Kunz has been fascinated by computers since the early Eighties. After her Abitur, she studied industrial engineering with a focus on computer science in Darmstadt. “What attracted me to business informatics was the high level of practical relevance and dealing with socio-technical systems – how do people use IT in companies in a targeted way, how can processes be optimised with it and how do you manage to adapt software to people’s requirements instead of the other way around?”, she explains. “It was a bit of a pity that computer science professors sometimes spoke somewhat pejoratively of ‘hyphenated computer science’  – they were not aware of the importance the subject held for the future,” she recalls.

Dedicated to teaching and lifelong learning

During her studies, in 1993, she started her own business as an IT consultant and trainer and gave user training courses in companies, where she realised that she really enjoyed teaching, not least because it meant constant learning. At that time Sibylle Kunz was already thinking about a doctorate, but the practical work appealed to her, her self-employment was successful, and her training events resulted in exciting projects.

But since she is not only enthusiastic about computers, but also about imparting knowledge, she took over a lecture in project management at Mainz University of Applied Sciences as a lecturer in 2011. More courses were added as part of a teaching position. She supervised theses, became a member of the senate and realised: “This is exactly what I would like to do!” Now she wanted to finish the path and pursue a professorship.

For her, there is something inspirational about teaching and learning situations – for both sides. She sees her purpose in providing students with knowledge and competences in such a way that they can become productive with them after their studies. “There is a saying: ‘Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together’. That describes the constellation very aptly,” she says.

Entering research

Since a professorship requires a doctorate, she decided in 2016 to pursue this path. The next time-consuming project after founding a business, building a house, and raising two children.

“In my colleague Prof. Sven Pagel I found an active supporter and in Prof. Hagenhoff a supervisor who understood my intention and gave me the chance to write my dissertation on usability of digital reading media with her and to fulfil my dream of delving into a new subject next to business informatics. Since books not only interest me in terms of content, but also in terms of their creation and distribution, and in terms of how the market works, the step into Book Sciences in Erlangen was not farfetched.”, she explains.

The project did not leave much free time, and the day usually had too few hours. So, what motivated her? “A doctorate in the middle of life is much more difficult to organise than right after graduation, but you have more life experience, you are much more structured, you can handle it better when things get difficult and tough – and they inevitably do at some point in every doctoral project – and you are more willing to go to and beyond your limits.” There was a motivational boost when the theoretical framework was in place and she could move on to empirical testing of the reference model, which is when she was able to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the first time, she says. In 2019, she started applying for professorships and ended up in the top positions several times after the interviews, even though her PhD was not yet finished. In addition to these successes, her private environment as well as her supervisors naturally motivated her to continue pursuing her goal. “And I also often imagined all the things I would be able to do with my free time when it came back at some point,” she says and laughs.

First doctorate in Digital Humanities

For her doctorate, Sibylle Kunz examined the everyday utility of digital reading media (Gebrauchstauglichkeit digitaler Lesemedien) and designed a reference model for their development. Her work connects access points and theories from media research (media use, reception) with those from the technical sciences (reference model, object architecture, standards) and shows how these two expertises can and must be combined productively to depict, analyse, and shape digital media as a highly complex subject. She found the ideal context in the newly created subject of Digital Humanities, because here, too, many projects deal with the examination and research of semantically uniformly processed digitised texts and artefacts and the transfer of methods from computer science to disciplines that had previously been rather remote from technology or less tech-savvy. Therefore, while working on her dissertation, in consultation with her supervisors, she switched from Book Science to Digital Humanities. This was ideal, since her intended future professorship would still be in computer science.

While her topic previously examined an overlap between Book Science and business informatics, it was completely encompassed by Digital Humanities.

“With the further examination topic ‘Sociotechnical Systems and Technology Acceptance’, I was able to fulfil my wish to bring people, knowledge and technology together. The fact that it then also became my first doctorate in this subject made me particularly happy and a little proud. I hope to see FAU again in the future and perhaps new joint projects will arise from my professorship at IU.”

Congratulations on this successful career and we look forward to continued good cooperation!


Sibylle Kunze’s book ‚Usability digitaler Lesemedien‘ will be available from June: