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Mentoring for women starting a PhD: a “free zone” into academic identity

Aurianne Stroude (Department of Sociology, Political sciences and Social work, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland)
Tanja Bellier-Teichmann (Laboratoire de psychologie du Développement(PsyDCI), University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)
Odile Cantero (Research Center in Health Psychology, Institute of Health Psychology. University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)
Nora Dasoki (Life Course and Inequality Research Centre (LINES), National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)
Laure Kaeser (Life Course and Inequality Research Centre, NCCR-LIVES, University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO), Delémont, Switzerland and University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland)
Miriam Ronca (Institut d’Histoire de la Médecine et de la Santé (IHMS), University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland)
Diane Morin (Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




Despite increasing numbers of women attaining higher levels in academic degrees, gender disparities remain in higher education and among university faculty. Authors have posited that this may stem from inadequate academic identity development of women at the doctoral level. While gender differences may be explained by multiple and variable factors, mentoring has been proposed as a viable means to promote academic identity development and address these gender gaps. A “StartingDoc program” was launched and supported by four universities in French-speaking Switzerland. The purpose of this paper is to report the experience of one of the six “many-to-one” mentoring groups involved in the StartingDoc program in 2012-2013.


This study is based on the description of a group experience within a university-based mentoring scheme offered to women entering in their PhD program in French-speaking Switzerland. It is examined using a qualitative, narrative case study design.


Themes from the narrative analysis included the four dimensions of the Clutterbuck model of mentoring (guiding, coaching, counselling, networking), as well as an additional five emerging themes: first expectations, process, sharing, building identity, and unmet expectations. The qualitative analyses suggest that mentoring can be an effective tool in supporting professional identity development among female doctoral students. However, further work is needed to elucidate the most effective strategies for developing and retaining women in academia.


While a many-to-one mentoring group has been theorized and is recognized as an effective means of supporting doctoral experience, its implementation in French-speaking Switzerland is in its infancy. This study provides insights into the value of such a mentoring scheme dedicated to women at the very beginning of their doctoral studies. Most notably it created opportunities for mentees to: discover aspects of academic life; break isolation; and develop some of the soft skills required to facilitate their doctoral journey.



The authors thank A. Dwyer (PhD fellow).


Stroude, A., Bellier-Teichmann, T., Cantero, O., Dasoki, N., Kaeser, L., Ronca, M. and Morin, D. (2015), "Mentoring for women starting a PhD: a “free zone” into academic identity", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 37-52.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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