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Women in Science

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Interview excerpt: Katja is part of the mentoring scheme in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine. She has a mentor and she is a mentor herself. She explains how the scheme works.

Portrait of Katja Gehmlich© Women in ScienceAt this stage do you have a role model or a mentor?

I do have a formal mentor at the University which is a new scheme.

This University?

Yes. There is a mentoring scheme in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, it’s just a person I can discuss things with and she’s outside my immediate work group, which helps to discuss strategic decisions.

Moreover, I have been fortunate that I have had a long term mentor from the final stages of my PhD until now, who also became a friend later on. But I didn’t even know that this is a mentor. It was just someone I could turn to when I struggled to write up my PhD or when I wondered what to do next, whether to, for example, give up the first postdoc or not. And I only later realised that the formal word to describe all the advice and support I got is mentoring.

Is that a woman or a man?

That is a woman.

What we had in common was she knew my PhD supervisor and that he wasn’t particularly helpful with certain aspects, like career advice. So she thought she could compensate by doing this.

Are you a mentor yourself now?

Yes, I used to informally mentor students who came to work here for a bit and again this was something I never knew that this is called ‘mentoring’ until someone said, ‘This is mentoring.’

Now I’m part of the formal mentoring scheme within my department as a mentor and I think it just does make a huge difference to people because when they come with things they are not sure about, or when they feel nervous about … just someone else saying kind of, ‘I’ve been in a similar situation or, or these are your options.’ It does make a huge difference.

How does it work in the department? Do they choose you or does someone put them in touch with them?

You have to express an interest for being either a mentor or a mentee or both and then they will send you four different suggestions who could be your mentor and there is a short biography, just half a page, who these people are, what they do. And then you can choose one. You could pick this person based on someone you want to be either fairly close to your work or a bit more distant. You could pick it based on a woman, a man or a similar career stage or more focusing on work-life balance.

Does that seem to work?

Yes. It’s a fairly new scheme in the department but it seems to work really well.