Developing female leaders in science

The DCEXS-UPF empowers female PhD students and postdocs with a tailor-made course on leadership and negotiation skills

The four sessions of the course took place on October 4, 11, 15 and 23 of 2018

The four sessions of the course took place on October 4, 11, 15 and 23 of 2018

“I have learned how to give feedback in a better way and how to negotiate. The course also made me think about what it means to be assertive and how important it is”. This is one of the many positive comments of the participants of the 16-hour “Female Leadership in Sciencecourse organized in October 2018 by the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences of the Pompeu Fabra University (DCEXS-UPF).

7 female PhDs and 11 Postdocs from DCEXS-UPF and other centres at the Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona (PRBB) learned skills for leadership and practical negotiation, but also in self-management, career planning and effective communication based on assertiveness and feedback. The last part of the course was reserved for an introduction to peer coaching. Ever since, the group meets regularly to further consolidate the knowledge acquired during the course and to give each other support as leadership and career challenges might arise.

18 PhDs and Postdocs participated in the course
18 PhDs and Postdocs participated in the course

The course was custom made and run by Alicia Marín Muniesa, a professional coach, trainer and facilitator with broad experience designing and delivering programmes for professional development, and a regular collaborator of the PRBB Intervals Programme.

Both the programme and the trainer received excellent feedback. “Now I have a goal map to follow” says one participant. And, “the way to lead myself and other colleagues of my research group has changed as a result of participating in this course. I will put in practice the presented concepts to improve my professional skills”, explains another.

Committed to gender equality

The gender dimension of talent retention concerns the managers at the DCEXS-UPF. Even though bio-scientific careers attract students in equal numbers of female and male undergrad students, PhD students and postdocs, the transition to leadership roles is biased and only approximately 25 % of women achieve a position of a principal investigator. Therefore DCEXS-UPF has taken action with this initiative to make sure that women advance in their career and that this becomes the rule rather than the exception.

The DCEXS commitment for gender balance and talent retention is a central part of the Strategic Research Programme of the department’s María de Maeztu project. “The success of this course paves the way for future activities of our Gender Action Plan“, explains David Comas, director of the department. The plan also includes specific funding to help women pursue and consolidate their career in science.

“The success of this course paves the way for future activities of our Gender Action Plan”
David Comas, director of the DCEXS-UPF

In February 2018, a focus group session with PhD students was held to discuss gender issues and equality. One of the main conclusions was that some female scientists might not pursue a principal investigator position because of their self-perceived lack of confidence. In order to address it, this course on leadership and negotiation skills was created to empower female PhD students and postdocs. Most participants were from the DCEXS-UPF but, in harmony with the mission of the PRBB Good Scientific Practices working group and the PRBB Gender Equality Committee, participants from all other PRBB institutions were also invited.


About the author
Regina López holds a PhD in Neurosciences (UAB) and an MBA (EADA). She is the project manager of the María de Maeztu Unit of Excellence of the MELIS-UPF which allows her to combine her two passions, science and management.

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