“20 Years of TANDEM – A Success Story Celebrates Its Birthday” From left to right: Kati Korst (TANDEMstud and TANDEMplus), Jenny Bartsch (sign language interpreter, SignGes), and Gitta Doebert (TANDEM).
Andreas Schmitter

20 Years of TANDEM Mentoring Programs at RWTH

A Success Story Celebrates Its Birthday

RWTH launched its first mentoring program in the 2002/2003 winter semester: TANDEM for female students and doctoral candidates.

With this, the University proved to be a pioneer – there were hardly any similar initiatives to support women's career paths elsewhere in Germany at the time – and it consistently followed the path towards ensuring gender-equitable staff development at a technical university.

TANDEM Mentoring Programs in a Nutshell

  • Target groups: Female students, doctoral candidates, and postdocs
  • Programs: typically lasting a year, consisting of three modules
    • 1:1 Mentoring
    • Target group-specific workshops
    • Networking
  • Objective: Supporting strategic career planning and acquiring key skills

“Nowadays, the TANDEM mentoring programs for female students, doctoral candidates, and postdocs are an integral part of RWTH’s profile. Our University thus sends a clear message that it is committed to ensuring equal opportunities,” says Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, Rector of RWTH Aachen University.

One of the essential factors behind the success of today's TANDEM mentoring programs is the University’s ability to respond flexibly to changing needs or target groups by providing tailored programs for different groups of women. While there was initially only one TANDEM program, steadily rising applications led to the splitting of TANDEM into two lines in 2013 – one for female students and one for doctoral candidates, TANDEMstud and TANDEMdok. Two years later, the new structure was officially adopted. Initially introduced as a cross-university collaboration, the first steps at reaching the target group of female postdocs were taken with TANDEMplus in 2004. Now, the program is offered in English and exclusively addresses female postdocs from within RWTH. In the spring of 2023, the University rounded off its structured mentoring programs with TANDEMbridge, an offering to inspire more female students to pursue a doctorate. The target group here is female academics who are in the process of transitioning from graduate to doctoral studies.

Large Anniversary Celebration in May 2023

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary, the Rectorate Staff Unit IGaD – the department in charge of the TANDEM mentoring program – hosted a large celebration in May 2023. It was moderated by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Professor Voigt, and was attended by over one hundred current and former mentees, mentors, members of the rectorate, and others who played an essential role in guiding the women on their career paths.

Panel Discussion: Mentoring as a way to boost staff development and facilitate organizational progress at universities. From left to right: Konstanze Bustian (sign language interpreter, SignGes), Prof. Torsten H. Voigt, senior engineer Karin Loh (TANDEMdok alumna), Professor Sabine Schlittmeier (former mentor), Professor Ada Pellert (FernUni Hagen), Professor Sabine Brück (RWTH), and Gitta Doebert (TANDEMdok).
Andreas Schmitter

The panelists shared their views on the Effects of Mentoring on Staff Development and Organizational Progress at Universities. In the welcoming speeches, the keynote by Professor Ada Pellert, Rector of the FernUniversität Hagen, and in the discussion round, the positive impact of mentoring programs on both an individual and institutional level was emphasized: These days, for example, numerous alumnae hold leading positions at universities, research institutes, or in industry. In addition to supporting personal career paths, the program's declared goal is to increase the proportion of women at all levels of higher education – this is being promoted by expanding structures that provide equal opportunities.

“University structures are changing slowly but steadily, for example, by taking measures to raise awareness among internal mentors or members of selection committees, which is then accompanied by changes in behavior at the management level,” says Professor Sabine Brück-Dürkop, Vice-Rector for Human Resources Management and Development.

Participants and organizers of the TANDEM anniversary celebration on May 11, 2023.
Andreas Schmitter

The large anniversary celebration marked the official start of the TANDEM anniversary year, featuring numerous other events highlighting gender equality and equal opportunities.

– Authors: Staff in charge of the TANDEM mentoring programs (Integration Team – Human Resources, Gender and Diversity Management)