Female scientists are still underrepresented and especially young women face gender-specific challenges that limit their pursuit of academic careers. With 35% of the projects lead by female PIs, “Breaking Barriers” is committed to raising awareness of the gender-specific difficulties and to support gender equality. This resonates with the Münster university’s explicit goals of gender equality and a family-friendly environment. To provide career guidance for female scientists with young families, the WWU has implemented an Equal Opportunities Commissioner and the Gender Mainstream Commission. The gender equality concept is classified since 2013 by the DFG at the top level and received the “TOTAL-E-QUALITY” attribute in 2011, 2014 and 2017. WWU also was certified as a “Family-friendly University” by the Hertie Foundation. As a coordination and counseling center, the WWU Family Service Bureau (www.uni-muenster.de/Service-Familie/) offers information and advice on parental allowance, parental leave, childcare, and re-entry, as well as questions concerning adult dependent relatives.
Adequate childcare, especially after hours, on weekends, and during school and kindergarten vacations remains a central barrier to gender equality. Several WWU childcare centers for early childhood (0-3 years) daycare offer extended opening hours with reserved placements for the children of students and scientists. The “Niki de Saint Phalle” childcare center of the University Hospital now provides placements for 150 children, 70 of which are for children under 3 years of age (opening hours from 6:15 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., maximum care time per day 12 hours). A University Hospital day care unit for emergency situations, the “Kinderinsel”, provides flexible care, in particular for young children (0-6 years), in cases of illness, work-related travel, or evening seminars. Additionally, a stand-by babysitter service database, as well as school holiday programs, were established.
The WWU has established several specific programs dedicated to the support of excellent female post-docs and junior group leaders and the promotion of female scientists at the senior postdoctoral/early professorship level, including the mentoring program “First Class!”. “Breaking Barriers” complements and supports the WWU gender equality activities. The DFG-supported “Women in Science Network Conference 2018” was organized by the two “Breaking Barriers” PIs Karin Loser (B07) and Ursula Rescher (A06) and aimed at enhancing the visibility of female scientists, promoting networking activities and support and encouraging female researchers, particularly those at early career steps.
A key goal of “Breaking Barriers” is the support of young scientists on their way to independence. The annual Münster Immunology Meeting with presentations mainly by advanced PhD students and young Post-docs is a well-received opportunity for scientific exchange through talks and poster presentations. The Pathogen-Host Interaction Club (phi-Club), co-ordinated by the Breaking Barriers PIs Ulrich Dobrindt (B05) and Ursula Rescher (A06), provides a series of invited talks by renowned international speakers and an annual spring symposium. This platform brings together researchers working on infection biology, cell biology, and immunology, and aims at preparing the graduates to work in a multi-disciplinary research landscape.
We are especially proud of the “Breaking Barriers Young Scientists Club” established by “Breaking Barriers” PhD students.