“Successfully pass your PhD” – Retrospection on a MeTra workshop

How to recruit women to top positions is commonly discussed these days, as the government has just decided to implement a quota for women in the directorates of Germany´s 100 biggest market-listed companies. Starting in 2016, about 30% of the positions in the governing bodies of Volkswagen, Daimler and Co. have to be filled by women.

The MeTra program organizes different workshops for participants (photo: Anouschka Strang)

When it comes to work, the principle of equal opportunity for women and men is rather controversial and difficult to judge. The disparity in the number of women and men in leading positions has led to the creation of mentoring programs for female students, doctoral candidates, or women who have already successfully conquered the first steps of the career ladder. Googling the term “Frauenförderung Universität“, which means “promotion of women at the university“, yields about 146 k results headed by the website of the Office for equal opportunity (in German: Gleichstellungsbüro) of the University of Bonn. Yikes!

Since 2004, the University of Bonn has offered a mentoring and training (short: MeTra) program, which aims to guide young female academics at the beginning of their careers. The program runs for 12 months and involves regular meetings, the establishment of a mentor-mentee relationship, and individual coaching during quaternary workshops. Each year, a small number of dedicated female PhD students is selected who proactively meet on a regular basis to collectively reflect on the progress they have made and obstacles they have encountered in their careers. The mentoring part includes face-to-face meetings with a well-established female or male professor who is kindly willing to share personal experiences and impressions with their mentees. Finally, the program provides workshops that broach the issues of core competencies, career planning, and conflict management.

In March 2015, a group of 10 female PhD students with an academic background ranging from business to medical sciences met to take part in a workshop that aimed at successfully organizing a PhD project. Even though the individual PhD topics varied considerably, it soon became obvious that most PhD students deal with the same struggles. Difficulties with time management, self-motivation, and the omnipresent pressure of handling deadlines and attending conferences may sound familiar to most PhD students, which is why the coach of the recent workshop, who holds a PhD herself, explained step by step how to effectively plan and use the remaining time until the final thesis submission. There may always be good and bad times, but especially the bad ones appear less intimidating when one is aware of personal strengths, a topic that was also thoroughly examined during the two-day workshop. Doing a PhD is as easy as riding a bike! OK, no one ever actually said that, but attending the recent MeTra workshop definitely rekindled our enthusiasm.

FYI: Every year the ImmunoSensation Excellence Cluster holds and funds two spots for female IITB PhD students and two spots for female Postdocs who are interested in joining the MeTra program. Knowledge of the German language is necessary as all MeTra workshops are held in German. Applications are normally open in autumn.



Author: Sophie Schonauer