Consensus reigns in the ETH Domain that there must be equal career and salary opportunities for both sexes in the academic world and that the up-and-coming generation of talented researchers must be promoted. This is the only way of attracting the best international brains to ETH Zurich, the EPFL and the research institutes. Every institution sets great store on this objective and pursues it vigorously. The offering is diverse, as a brief review illustrates.

Career bottlenecks after completing doctorates: The Childrens’ Pavilion, the child daycare centre of Eawag and Empa, is also a great help to postdoc scientist Alexandra Kroll (photo: Michael Sieber, Langnau/Zürich).

“The ETH Domain will create attractive and family-friendly working conditions, promote equality of opportunity and develop young scientific talent.” This is the key sentence in the performance mandate for Objective 5 “Equal Opportunity and Promoting New Talent”. What, however, is the situation in everyday practice? A selection of examples offers a small insight.

The first stop for gaining an insight into the promotion of young talent is with Sonja Negovetic, Deputy Head of the Research Coordination Unit at ETH Zurich. “In promoting the next generation, we support people and projects at all stages of their academic career, from master’s degree to doctorate, postdoc or assistant professorship,” she explains. For example, students wishing to complete their master’s degree at ETH Zurich can apply for the “Excellence Scholarship & Opportunity Programme (ESOP)”. This scholarship system is open to internal and external applicants alike, regardless of nationality. The grants are financed by external funds. By the end of 2012, a total of 143 students had enrolled in an ESOP Programme, 51 of them women. Sixty of them, a total of 42 per cent, previously acquired their bachelor’s degree at ETH Zurich.

Complementing both Swiss National Fund (SNF) and EU programmes, researchers at ETH Zurich can submit projects under the competitive “ETH Research Grants” programme that serves to support doctoral students. The focus here is on innovative or unconventional research projects, primarily in basic research, that have the potential to yield exciting results and for which it would be difficult to obtain funding from external support schemes. The ETH Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme is targeted at young researchers with excellent international references from outside ETH Zurich. “This way ETH Zurich distinguishes itself as an attractive research location for excellent scientists from around the world,” says Sonja Negovetic. The programme is co-financed by the EU (COFUND). Pioneer Fellowships have been created at the interface between science, research and industry, their purpose being to develop promising results from a research activity into an innovative product or service. This Pioneer Fellowship Programme is open to master’s degree and doctoral students and is financed by thirdparty funding.

Special support: the Branco Weiss Fellowship
The “Society in Science – The Branco Weiss Fellowship” is a special kind of talent promotion programme founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Branco Weiss at ETH Zurich to promote postdoc scientists irrespective of their background, future place of work and expertise. In 2012 ETH Zurich was able to announce that it would be receiving a further 100 million CHF for this talent promotion programme from the estate of Branco Weiss, thereby securing the programme’s existence for years to come. In 2012, eight new fellows were selected from around 450 applicants. Young researchers choosing to pursue a scientific career can apply for assistant professorships. As part of its professorship planning, ETH Zurich fills some of its vacancies with assistant professors, normally with tenure track. Furthermore, young researchers can apply for sponsored professorships from the SNSF or for an ERC Starting Grant.

From Zurich we now turn to Lausanne where at EPFL Equal Opportunity Officer Farnaz Moser-Boroumand shows us several measures for promoting equality of opportunity across all age groups. For girls aged seven to 15 there are courses such as “Internet for girls” or “Robots are for girls” as well as science weeks especially for girls. This provides them with an initial insight into the fascinating world of engineering sciences. The university bus “Les sciences, ça m’intéresse!” has been doing the rounds in French-speaking Switzerland since 2009, raising scientific awareness among young people and girls in particular. The activities were expanded in 2012 and are now also available to pupils at lower secondary school level. Each year, over 4,000 girls benefit from the programme of the EPFL’s Equal Opportunities Office that aims to make the MINT subjects attractive for young people. “To ensure that the students and scientists have the necessary tools to make the right decision at the right time and make use of all opportunities for a successful academic career, a wide range of offers has been drawn up that includes several mentoring and coaching programmes,” explains Farnaz Moser-Boroumand.

Women “vanish” during their career
A glance at the figures confirms the need for these efforts to promote the next generation of women. The proportion of women students, doctoral candidates and postdocs at EPFL fluctuates at around 27 per cent and at professor level is just 12 per cent. The measures taken include the ongoing development of childcare infrastructure in order to enhance the compatibility of family life and a career. New places are regularly created at the two day nurseries on the campus. There has also been a structure with a kindergarten and additional supervision outside school hours for almost 10 years. Flexible working hours at EPFL are very popular. According to a recent poll, 78 per cent of interviewees are “satisfied” with the provision in this area and 39 per cent “very satisfied”.

The next stop is with Ines Günther-Leopold. The graduate Doctor of Chemistry is group leader in the nuclear energy and safety research field and spokeswoman for the Equal Opportunity Committee at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The discussion initially centres on the observation that promoting the next generation essentially cannot begin early enough and that this is often closely bound up with equality of opportunity. The fact that although the proportion of girls among sixth form leavers is significantly higher than it was a few years ago this is not reflected among students of technical and scientific disciplines and that despite numerous measures the PSI consistently fails to achieve its set objectives in terms of the proportion of women in management positions points to two things for Ines Günther-Leopold: “Awareness of the so-called MINT subjects of mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology needs to be raised at an early stage. We are still losing too many women on the way up.” PSI is exploring various avenues to combat this. To make it easier for women to return to work after a family-related break, PSI has launched a returnee project for young women scientists. The so-called “Daughters’ Day” (for the past two years part of the “Future Day” for both girls and boys) is where girls at PSI receive their first insight into their parents’ scientific and technical working environment. The “iLab – the laboratory for the iPod generation”, as it says on the PSI homepage, aims to “kindle a scientific flame in young people.” The children’s laboratory with experimental accommodation for two dozen children is located directly at the PSI site in Villigen, Canton of Aargau. Visitor groups are immortalised with a link and photo on the PSI homepage and numbers have now reached the hundreds.

Desire for annual working time
“The central issue remains this: how can PSI be and continue to be an attractive employer? Only by succeeding here can we continue to attract the best minds. Linked to this, attention then turns to the other issues,” says Ines Günther-Leopold. At issue is part-time work for young researchers of either sex wishing to combine childcare with their career as well as flexible working models for older scientists and career planning for younger ones. PSI is striving for solutions in all these areas. Back in 2009, PSI initiated a survey on the subject of flexible working time and complementary childcare. What emerged was that women in particular wished to have models such as annual working hours or teleworking and institutional childcare facilities for when their children were ill as well as improved holiday facilities. Once a year during the school holidays there is now a holiday camp for the children of PSI employees which enables children’s enthusiasm for the world of science and engineering to be fired at the earliest possible opportunity. A vital component in the “compatibility of family and career” issue is the child daycare centre currently attended by around 75 children that has existed for many years on the research institute’s premises.

The official job title of the role filled at WSL by graduate organisational psychologist Ursula Gut, which comprises a 70 per cent employment relationship, is “Workplace Diversity Coordinator”. She describes her job as follows: “I deal with subjects and implementation projects that aim to promote equality of opportunity in the workplace between men and women, people of different ages, different ethnic backgrounds and philosophies of life and who differ in terms of their health and sexual orientation.” Here too the focus is on gender issues and raising girls’ awareness of scientific and technical fields. At WSL, however, this is also supplemented with various forms of career planning and promoting young talent. We are talking about students undertaking a six-month work placement after their master’s degree or doctoral students being supervised at the research institute. A pilot project to support older employees on fixed-term contracts has also been running since 2012. “Before their contract expires, we get in touch with those concerned and offer them support on a voluntary basis. This often involves practical things such as putting together a faultless application portfolio,” says Ursula Gut. The serves to maintain their employability.

Promoting postdoc researchers
In pride of place at the top of Empa’s website on equality of opportunity is a single word in red and black letters: “together”. This is the buzzword Christiane Löwe uses to summarise all the measures associated with her job as Empa’s equal opportunity and diversity representative; if it helps the cause, she is happy to offer her own services as presenter as she did last September, when the Women meet Women business lunch was relaunched together with Eawag. On that occasion, Christiane Löwe asked Eawag’s assistant professor Lenny Winkel about her experiences as a postdoc scientist at various scientific institutions in Europe. For the members of the audience, this was first-hand information on the importance of mobility for a scientific career. Shortly beforehand, Lenny Winkel had been awarded an SNF professorship for her outstanding achievements – a nice example of the efficient promotion of women. Now in 2013, as part of the COFUND career promotion programme EMPA POSTDOCS, Christiane Löwe intends to offer new courses for young scientists – taking their lead from examples such as that of Lenny Winkel.

This event was co-organised by Alexandra Kroll, a postdoc scientist in Eawag’s environmental toxicology department and spokeswoman of the Committee for Equal Opportunity and Promoting Young Talent. The mother of a three-year-old child – who attends the in-house day nursery – knows from personal experience about the career bottleneck that affects many up-and-coming scientists, and especially women, after completing their doctorates. “At Eawag, for example, permanent vacancies are pretty scarce. Postdocs essentially have to consider how they intend to cope with the insecurity of a scientific career or otherwise look for alternatives in private industry,” says Alexandra Kroll. Here too Eawag offers assistance. For example, since the autumn of 2012 coaching programmes for postdocs have been resumed. At the opening event, Dr Monica Clausen, formerly a scientist and now a freelance human resource developer, spoke on the topic “From luck to mastery: Women and their academic careers”.