Female researchers on the right track

By Audrey SomnardMisch Pautsch Switch to French for original article

How do you keep female doctoral candidates on the faculty track? The University of Luxembourg is tackling the problem by setting up a mentoring programme. An initiative that has already proved successful on other campuses.

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Academic careers are fraught with difficulties and it takes a lot of hard work and patience to reach the ultimate grail, the professorship. You have to get to the doctorate, specialise for several years as a 'post-doc' researcher, the antechamber to the professorship, and then eventually become an associate professor and then a full professor. At the University of Luxembourg, as elsewhere, there are too few women professors. The figures are implacable. According to the University's statistics office, 43.7 per cent of doctoral students are women, not far from parity. On the other hand, only 25 per cent of professors are women. The organisation is working to make up for this deficit with the Advance Mentoring Programme, which supports young female researchers who are thinking of embarking on an academic career. These objectives are anchored in the University's key performance indicators on gender equality.

The three pillars of the programme are based on mentoring activities: developing different mentoring activities to facilitate the personal and professional development of researchers; but also developing training opportunities for career development for researchers, in particular for postdocs, research scientists and assistant professors; and finally, promoting networking within the community. The aim is to bring people together in unstructured conversations on topics relevant to research careers and gender equity.

In other universities, such mentoring programmes have been in existence for a long time and have proven their worth. For example, the French-speaking universities of Switzerland (Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and the EPFL) operate a "Réseau romand", which is aimed particularly at "up-and-coming" female researchers. Since the first edition in 2001, 261 mentees have participated in the mentoring programme. They have been accompanied by 203 mentors from all Swiss universities as well as from foreign universities. Of these 261 mentees: 12 have obtained a full professorship since the beginning of the programme, 12 have been stabilised as lecturers, 16 are working as assistant professors, 16 have become professors at universities of applied sciences (UAS) or universities of senior scientists (MTE), 8 are currently associate professors. A total of 23 per cent have chosen a non-academic career, while 42 per cent have a position in the intermediate body (postdoc, senior researcher, group leader, lecturer or teaching assistant).

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