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Women’s Career Day 2015: Communication and career paths for female academics

Well-informed, balanced and self-confident – the next generation of female academics are expected to fulfill all of these criteria if they want to have successful careers. During the Women’s Career Day at the Geomatikum, 60 PhD candidates and postdocs received valuable support to help them do so.

In four all-day workshops (in parallel groups) on February 20 and 21, the young researchers developed new perspectives on career paths, career opportunities, conflict management and how to write professional applications. The program was offered for female researchers from all departments in Universität Hamburg’s MIN faculty (Mathematics, Informatics and Natural Sciences), drom DESY and from other institutes.


“Female academics don’t always have to choose the steepest route,” Dr.-Ing. Steffi Beckhaus said. Credit: UHH/CEN

In the workshop entitled “Navigator Wanted! Career Orientation for Women in Academia”, the participants learned the importance of accurate planning.“There are plenty of options, but I have to decide for myself which way to go,” says  Dr.-Ing. Steffi Beckhaus, who led the workshop. Female academics can become professors, go into business for themselves, work in the corporate sector or head a research department. In contrast, “classic” industrial career paths tend to be far less flexible, Beckhaus claims.

Further, it should be kept in mind that the word “career” doesn’t necessarily refer to a successful career, but to planning your life and work in general. “Female academics don’t always have to choose the steepest route; it’s more important that they find a path that matches their personality,” the coach explains and recommends trying to find your own inner compass. What things am I good at, and of those, which ones do I enjoy doing the most? What can I contribute? Where do I want to go? Beckhaus further advises women in academia to try to learn more about the current job landscape through targeted talks, e.g. with their own professor and/or with contacts he/she provides. “It pays to give some thought to your personal goals, and to do a bit of research about your future.” Steffi Beckhaus used focused planning when it came to her own career. After working for seven years as a Junior Professor of Informatics at Universität Hamburg, today her work includes serving as an innovation coach and consultant for those planning to pursue an academic career.

Another workshop focused on presentation techniques, with special emphasis on projecting your voice and using the right body language. Professional communication was also addressed in the training on conflict management. Given the heavy workloads, less reliable working conditions, and differing working methods and interests, conflicts are part of day-to-day work at many universities. Participants had the chance to prepare for potential crisis situations with the help of role-plays. Women’s Career Day also included training on writing applications; here the participants prepared their own application strategies and were familiarized with the current standards. Lastly, sufficient time was provided between the workshops for the participants to exchange notes and network with others from outside their own institution or discipline.

This year’s installment of the annual Women’s Career Day was organized by Universität Hamburg’s MIN faculty, the Clusters of Excellence CUI and CliSAP, the Collaborative Research Centers 676 and 925, the PIER Helmholtz Graduate School, and the Research Training Group 1670.