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Mentoring programme for female researchers

Background

The "Progressio" programme is one of two lines of the university's Helene Lange Mentoring Programme. It is aimed at female academics who are aiming for a professorship – experienced postdocs, junior research group leaders, junior professors and tenure-track professors. The programme is designed to encourage highly qualified women to consistently pursue their career goals. In addition to mentoring by an experienced professional from her own discipline, it includes a supporting programme of workshops, individual coaching and discussion evenings. "Progressio" is financed by funds from "Women Professors Programme", an  initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The first round began in 2020 and lasted one year. Applications are currently open for the second round, which will start at the end of September with a kick-off event. Six to eight mentoring tandems can participate.

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Dr. Susanne Elpers

 

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  • Illustration of two women, one helps the other to climb a stair from a position further up

    A one-to-one mentoring relationship is at the core of the "Progressio" programme. Illustration: istock/Ponomariova_Maria

Experienced guidance

The university supports female junior scientists through a special mentoring programme. Participant Irene Faber and her mentor Ria Nijhuis-van der Sanden report on their experiences.

The university supports female junior scientists through a special mentoring programme. Participant Irene Faber and her mentor Ria Nijhuis-van der Sanden report on their experiences.

Developing new perspectives

The mentee: Dr. Irene Faber is a postdoctoral researcher at the Oldenburg Institute of Sport Sciences in the research group Sport and Movement Science. She studied movement sciences at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Subsequently, she was a lecturer and coordinator for teaching modules in a master's programme at Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede. Her PhD, which she wrote in parallel at Radboud university medical center (Radboudumc), was supervised by Prof. Dr Ria Nijhuis-van der Sanden, who was now also her "Progressio" mentor. Faber's research area is talent development in sports.

 

"Ria and I have known each other for a long time. I already took courses with her during my studies. She supervised both my master's thesis and my dissertation. When the mentoring programme started, I turned to her because she knows me so well and is also very experienced.

During the workshops in the mentoring programme, different questions came up. Some participants were concerned with work organization, the balance between private life and career, or whether or not to write a habilitation. For me, another level was important: How to develop my personality, how to deal with conflicts or power play.

The programme supported this with different kinds of workshops. These courses helped me to turn my thinking around, to see the opportunities that you can take and that you are not stuck in the system. Then I discussed it in more depth with Ria afterwards. It was a nice combination to have that together.

Another thing that women in particular can learn in this programme: To say ‘this is my limit’, and not to put everything on their shoulders. All the women in our group work very hard and try to do their best. But as an advanced junior scientist, you are in a new position, you don't have to do everything yourself. Sometimes it's good to prioritize or divide tasks. It was a big relief to see that we are all experiencing the same things, that we are not alone on this track and that we can get support from each other.

The mentoring programme has also helped me to reflect on how to continue in life. I realized that it is the content of my work that actually drives me and that I don’t want to lose that. I’d like to make some impact with the things that I do, trying to help kids at a young age to develop in the best way. This gives me more joy than anything, so that is where I want to add to society. We will see if a professorship comes up or not, or what position I can take to do that in the best way.

Ria and I will definitely stay in touch after the programme ends. I love to call her and ask her for advice. She helps me structure my own thoughts when they are a bit chaotic. Ria is always there to back me up."

"We need to empower each other"

The mentor: Prof. Dr Ria Nijhuis van der Sanden is a retired professor. After training as a physiotherapist, she ran her own practice for 20 years. She then moved to Radboudumc in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, as department head of pediatric physical therapy. She began her academic career by studying social sciences. She obtained her doctorate in 2003 at the age of 50. In 2009, she was appointed to the professorship of Applied Health Sciences at the Radboudumc.

 

"At first, it wasn't directly logical for me that I should be Irene's mentor, partly because I don't know the German science system well. But Irene had lots of arguments. And in the end, mentoring is not about me finding a solution for her, but to help Irene to reflect on a problem. I think that's the most important point in mentoring: to help the other person reflect on his or her role. What's happening right now, what skills do I have, what skills do I still need, who can help me? It is also important that mentor and mentee have a good connection with each other, in Dutch we say "een klik hebben" - then it works.

The most important point of programmes like "Progressio" for me is the empowerment, that they help to strengthen the belief that you can do it. That helps in situations like when it comes to who should be the first author on a publication or who should take over a project management. Often in such programmes, you also learn strategies for dealing well with your emotions in conflicts, for example – that you don't let them overwhelm you, but take the time to step back and think about what's happening.

In science, it still matters whether you're a man or a woman. I think we women need to learn to empower each other even more. For example, by bringing female candidates from our network into play for certain offices or jobs when we are asked. Many women think they are not suited for leadership positions. It was the same for me: When my job was coming open, I didn't apply at first. It wasn't until a woman professor called me and asked where my application was, that I thought, why not?"

(Changed: 2022-05-09)