GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Life After Ph.D.: How to retain capacity in academia

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/07/04 at 07:58

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

We have recently learned that many women choose to leave academia after getting their doctoral degree, and women are not the only ones deciding against a career in higher education. Especially in the hard sciences, many researchers prefer to work in their respective industries or in special research institutes. More money, a shorter path between the project stage and the practical implementation, and more effective administration are some of the reasons why this is the case.

Universities are concerned with this flight of research and teaching capacity, and rightfully so. If the most talented and driven scholars choose to move outside the academia, then the universities will no longer fulfill their goal to be at the forefront of the production of new knowledge. Besides the loss of prestige and regress in scientific results, universities would then be at risk of losing important financial support both from companies and donors.

In order to increase the capacity to retain scholars with a record of excellence in academia, and in particular those that have benefited from the support of the universities during their Ph.D., universities need to develop special programs aimed at junior scholars. Lund University (LU), the place where I work, is one of the schools where such a program has been developed.

Under the name luPOD (abbreviation for Lund University Post-Doctoral course), the university designed a one year program destined to increase the marketable skills of the junior scholars working at LU. (It is interesting that luPOD is born out of another, earlier, initiative targeting the group of junior women scholars. Since then LU decided that not only women but all researchers at the beginning of their careers are in need of support and expanded the program to include both genders).

  • Mentorship
  • Some of the strategies used during luPOD are familiar matter to University of Venus readers . One of them is mentorship (discussed also here), where junior and senior scholars are paired with the help of a database constructed on the basis of recommendations and of previous experience. One can choose a mentor from one’s own discipline if one judges that it is the academic research that needs more support. Or one could choose a mentor from the administrative side of university life, or from one with high pedagogical skills or another with a good record of attracting external funding. No matter what, the mentors are there to help, guide, and inspire the more junior scholars.
  • Networking
  • Another strategy is to create networks both horizontally and vertically (and here the University of Venus Networking Challenge comes easily to mind as a similar attempt). Vertically, through the mentorship initiative, younger and more senior higher education professionals get in touch and learn to know each other. The more experienced scholars roll the ball further by inviting their mentees to relevant reunions and conferences where they are likely to meet like-minded people. Horizontally, each luPOD group has one year of joint work and meetings at least once a month (including two overnight stays) to build connections with each other. In the future, when these young scholars will step up in the hierarchy, they will have each other’s support and perhaps would continue to “give forward”.
  • Improved skills
  • Thirdly, the luPOD participants will be improving their pedagogical skills through special workshops. They will also benefit from career advice on how to present themselves and their research in a more convincing fashion, how to write better grant applications, and how to start their own businesses. Not everyone will be interested in all of the things above, but the hope is that everyone will find at least something of relevance to their own career.

Since I myself have started luPOD this year (the first get-to-know-each-other meeting took place in May) I will have the chance to report from the field, so to speak, about the transposition of these goals into practice. For now, the least that can be said is that I am very glad this initiative exists and that, on paper, it bids well for the future.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

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  1. Very enlightened post, and I am wondering what method or methods were used to determine the fact that women leave academic after acquiring their doctoral degree? Why do you think women chose not to continue in education?

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