Closing the leaky pipeline – Ann-Kristin Dicke reflects on career advancement programme “Durchstarten”

CRU member and research enthusiast Ann-Kristin Dicke has benefited greatly from the University’s 'Durchstarten' programme.

CRU member Ann-Kristin Dicke from the Institute of Reproductive Genetics belongs to the first cohort of PhD students participating in the career advancement programme 'Durchstarten'. The programme is organised by the University’s Equal Opportunity Office. Six months into the programme, Ann-Kristin sits down with CRU project manager Hannah Lorenz to reflect on the programme, the leaky pipeline, and inspiring meetings. The next cohort begins in the winter semester 2023/24. Applications are welcome come end of April. For more information, please contact Lena Römer.

Hannah Lorenz: What is the programme 'Durchstarten' about?

Ann-Kristin Dicke: The programme addresses female doctoral students from all over the University and is intended to inspire them to pursue an academic career. We have different workshops where we talk about career planning, balancing family and work life, and many other exciting topics.

What is the goal of the programme?

The goal is to get women excited about a career in academia and to fight the leaky pipeline. The programme also serves as a networking platform for female doctoral students.

You already mentioned that the programme offers workshops. Could you please tell us more about the structure of the programme?

It started with a kick-off event in November to get to know each other. The programme comprises supervision meetings as well as workshops. The workshops cover topics like visibility and networking in academia, balancing family and science, and career planning. We further have supervision meetings at the beginning and end of the programme as well as in between. In addition, we attended a brown bag lunch where we got in touch with female professors from different departments.

How did you become aware of the programme?

Actually, Frank brought it to my attention and encouraged me to apply.

Why did you decide to apply?

To be honest, I’m not quite sure yet whether I want to pursue a scientific career. Before starting my PhD, I had a firm plan to work in the industry. But since working at the Institute of Reproductive Genetics, I’ve been enjoying doing research a lot. So now I’m undecided and not quite sure where the journey is going. That’s also what the programme is for. It makes you aware of what opportunities you have, where you want to go, what kind of job you want to do later, and it helps you make decisions. That was the main reason for me, because on paper there are quite a few arguments against working in academia, and I found it quite tempting to exchange ideas about it more intensively with others.

Please describe the application process.

You had to apply with a CV and a letter of motivation and that was it really. There was no interview or anything. The team from the University’s Equal Opportunity Office browsed the motivation letters and then you were informed whether you were accepted into the programme or not.

Who else is participating in the programme besides yourself?

It’s quite mixed. We are 15 PhD students. There are a few psychologists, but also researchers from the department of mathematics, didactics, political, or computer science as well as the Medical Faculty, for example.

Which structural conditions are necessary for female PhD students to participate in 'Durchstarten'?

Well, you have to be excused in order to attend the workshops. That’s roughly one day per month and you would need the support of your working group and of your professor. The programme is particularly aimed at female PhD students who are not employed in large third party-funded environments, but rather working groups that don’t offer such a large network.

In your opinion: Which challenges exist for women who want to pursue a career in academia?

Compatibility of family and science is always a big issue. However, I’m not quite sure to what extent you can solve that in an institutionalised way. Through the workshops, I became more aware that much has to happen on a personal level and depends on personal decisions of a couple or a family.  Generally, I think that nowadays women and men have the same chances to become professor.

What do you think, do we need programmes like 'Durchstarten'?

I think it’s definitely very helpful. For me in particular, it helps me become aware of what I actually want and which options are available professionally. I might not have even considered a scientific career without the programme. It encourages women to stay in academia.

The goal of the programme is to get female doctoral students excited about a career in science. Why are you excited about working in academia?

I just really enjoy the job that I’m doing right now. I love doing research, I find it incredibly exciting, and I would think it would be a shame not to consider it because research offers so much. I’m not sure there’s a field that would be equally exciting for me to work in.

In what way have you benefited from 'Durchstarten' so far?

For me personally, the brown bag lunch was very helpful. We could get in touch with female professors on a personal level and share our concerns and what might be holding us back from considering an academic career. The programme definitely helped me to reflect on what I want and which tasks I enjoy. The exchange with female PhD students from other departments is also particularly valuable. We realised that the academic structures and for example requirements for a PhD are rather heterogeneous across various departments and faculties. I therefore learned a lot about the structure of the university, too.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently or imagined differently about the programme?

Some meetings were online, whereas I realised that for me meetings in person were more fruitful. If possible, I would appreciate if the whole programme could take place on-site. Otherwise, I’m very satisfied.

You are now halfway through the programme. How has the programme helped you prepare for a scientific career?

It started with a workshop on career planning. We got a lot of information and I needed that since there was a lot I had not known before. Besides, the programme helped me reflect on my career plans: Where do I want to go? What kind of work would I like to do? It got me thinking.

What’s on the menu for the remaining time of 'Durchstarten'?

There are still a few interesting workshops coming up, for example on visibility in science, networking, or applying for third party funding. I’m looking forward to that.

Would you recommend the programme to others?

Yes, definitely. Both for PhD students who are certain that they want to stay in academia - there are a lot of helpful tips on how best to move forward - but also for PhD students who are not sure if they want to stay in science, like me. For those, I would recommend 'Durchstarten' because you get the time and space to think about a scientific career intensively, to reflect, exchange with others, and make a decision.

Thank you very much for your time and good luck with your scientific career!