Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Equal Opportunities EAOT

Mentoring of female doctoral researchers

For over two decades, FAU has implemented a sustainable approach to equal opportunities with both a large degree of commitment and great success. The legal requirement for the active enforcement of equal opportunities for women and men is given priority in committees and at all levels of decision-making.

These efforts were intensified in May 2003, with the establishment of an equal opportunities working group, whose task was to firmly embed the concept of gender mainstreaming into all areas of the university. The faculty of engineering was always at the forefront of gender equality efforts and was, therefore, awarded the Equal Opportunities Prize of the University in December 2005. That same year (2005), the university and all five faculties signed a joint agreement on gender equality. In doing so, FAU became the first University in Bavaria to implement measures for the advancement of women. The success of this approach was acknowledged in 2008, when the university received an award from the Bavarian State Ministry of Sciences, Research and the Arts for the best concept by a university for the realization of the requirement for gender equality. In April 2008, the university was officially certified as a “family-friendly university”. In 2011, FAU passed a new Equal Opportunities plan. In it the university states that an integral part of the mission statement of the university is the strategic adjustment of the equal opportunities policy and its structural integration to the university’s mission, thus committing itself to diversity management.

The main goal of the Equal Opportunity initiatives at FAU is to increase both the number of female students and academics at all professional levels (without compromising quality), as well as the proportion of men in areas in which they are still clearly under-represented. In order to achieve this objective FAU has focused on female mentoring and family support. Female mentoring has a long tradition at FAU starting even at the pre-university level with projects such as the Girls-and-Engineering Week and the Girls’ Day. Two highly successful FAU mentoring programs offered to female students and young academicians are:

  • ARIADNE: a female mentoring program established in 2003 that offers an extensive support framework whose key components are: a) customized mentoring, where the interests of each mentee are carefully matched with the qualifications of the mentor (out of a pool of ARIADNE mentors), b) a wide selection of career and soft skills seminars, c) many opportunities for career-oriented networking.
  • Academy for female students and young academics: a summer school whose goal is to create opportunities for innovative and multi-disciplinary research.

An important aspect for creating an equal opportunity environment is the balance of study, research and work on one hand, and family life on the other hand. The university offers through its family services, a range of services including child and member consultation, crèche places, different emergency programs (Känguru, Penguin, Delfin), a babysitting service, year-round childcare, as well as a “conference service” in the form of childcare during academic functions.

SAOT further supports the FAU childcare programs by sponsoring, with 10,000 €, the construction of an on-campus childcare facility, which is developed by the FAU for FAU parents. SAOT also provides additional financial support (according to the DFG guidelines) to scholarship holders (male or female), who have one or more children. Another essential component of family support by SAOT is the adoption of a comprehensive e-science approach which allows for increased flexibility in terms of location and time, increased individual control of scheduling, individually adaptable qualification processes, improved adaptation of cooperation and communication structures to individual personal and gender-specific circumstances, flexible time budgets, etc.

In general, a congruent gender mainstreaming action plan is in place within the framework of the Excellence Initiative since its inception. Since the establishment of SAOT, the gender equality (GE) representative of the faculty of engineering has always been a member of SAOT and is, according to the SAOT regulations, a regular member of the SAOT executive committee with voting privileges. The GE representative heads the equal opportunities team in advanced optical technologies (EAOT), whose task is to support female master and doctoral students. The EAOT has created its own website providing an extraordinary breadth of information. The website contains an extensive list of initiatives for the support and encouragement of female candidates: detailed information on subject-specific mentoring, travel and conference support, seminars, networking, childcare etc.  

Percentage of female students at the various levels of study, as well as post- doctoral fellows and professors (3-year average: 2008-2010)


FAU in total
Faculty of 
Faculty of 
Faculty of Medicine

Student beginners










Dr. degrees















 The aforementioned gender mainstreaming initiatives have succeeded in attracting and retaining female DCs in SAOT. Despite the fact that women’s participation in technical fields, especially at higher educational levels, is relatively low, female participation at SAOT has, so far, surpassed that of related fields. The distribution between the genders differs in the various faculties (see Table). As the level of studies increases, the percentage of female participants gradually decreases. In comparison, in 2010 in the department of physics, only 17% of the undergraduate students are female, with a comparable percentage of doctoral candidates, at 16% (not shown in the table). The SAOT has outperformed both the faculty of engineering and the department of physics with 24% female participation at the doctoral level and with 33% of the SAOT doctoral scholarship holders being female. Furthermore, 19% of the doctoral degrees in SAOT have been awarded to female researchers, far exceeding the 14% rate of the faculty of engineering. This number is expected to grow even further, due to the large number of current female DCs. The overall university goal is to have, by 2013, 20% of all doctorate degrees in Engineering and in Physics to be awarded to females. The SAOT has an even higher goal of about 35%.

The efforts and successes of SAOT on gender mainstreaming also extend to the principal investigators (PIs) and the associate investigators (AIs). Since 2006 one W1 junior professorship was converted, after negotiations with the Bavarian State Ministry, to a W2 professorship to provide an attractive permanent position for Professor Ekaterina Shamonina (In March 2011 she became a reader at Imperial College London. She is, however, still active as a permanent guest professor mentoring doctoral researchers at SAOT.) In 2009 the SAOT Young Researcher Award was conferred on Professor Alexandra Boltasseva from Purdue University (also affiliated with the Technical University of Denmark). In summary, since 2006 the number of female senior scientists at SAOT increased from one PI in 2006 to five in 2011 (2 female PIs – Profs. Merklein and Zaumseil – 2 AIs as permanent guest professors – Profs. Boltasseva and Shamonina – and 1 Ambassador – Prof. Lütjen-Drecoll).


Supporting Women at FAU's Faculty of Engineering



SAOT provides an interdisciplinary research and education program of excellence within a broad international network of distinguished experts to promote innovation and leadership in the areas

Optical Metrology
Optical Material Processing
Optics in Medicine
Optics in Communication and Information Technology
Optical Materials and Systems
and Computational Optics.