a mentor and a mentee in a lab

Mentoring: a boost for your career

Without great scientists, there is no great research. For this reason, the Max Delbrück Center supports young researchers and science managers through various mentoring programs – both internally and externally. In this installment of “We at MDC,” mentees and mentors talk about their experiences.

Behind great careers, there are usually great supporters. In technical terms, it’s called “mentoring” when people with a wealth of experience – mentors – share their knowledge with others – mentees – who are still at the beginning of their careers or want to set off down a new path. This kind of partnership exists at and is encouraged by the Max Delbrück Center through several mentoring programs organized by the Career Center for different target groups.

In the spring of 2024, the 11th mentoring program for postdoctoral researchers and science managers began. Dr. Jean-Yves Tano and Gabriele Kollinger from the People & Culture department worked with Equal Opportunity Officer Dr. Christiane Nolte on its conception and implementation. Interested postdocs and colleagues from science management were eligible to apply.

Gabriele Kollinger, Christiane Nolte, and Jean-Yves Tano selected 12 people from the applicants and paired them with external mentors from the scientific community, industry, or science management. The selection of suitable mentors was based on the respective fields, career goals, and personal preferences of the mentees. For a year, the pairs now will meet regularly to exchange ideas, either in person or via videoconference according to their preference. In addition, there are networking events, workshops, and informal meetings.

Mentoring at the Max Delbrück Center

Besides the mentoring program for postdoctoral researchers and science managers, there are also opportunities for other target groups. In the Postdoc-2-PhD program, postdocs take doctoral students under their wing. As part of ASPIRE (Advanced Science career development Program for Innovation and REsearch), the Max Delbrück Center prepares postdocs for future careers in both science and industry. Through “MDC Connect,” employees, alumni, and project partners can network with the community of current and former employees. Anyone can register as a mentor or mentee via a mentoring platform.

Overview of mentoring programs at the Max Delbrück Center

More than just a “perfect match”

Charlotte Quirin

This year's mentees include Dr. Charlotte Quirin, a scientific advisor in the strategy team. There, the biologist is responsible for positioning the Max Delbrück Center within the Helmholtz Association. The mentoring team paired her with Dr. Ricarda Opitz, a physicist and administrative director and board member at the Berlin Weizenbaum Institute. The two women share a desire to remain in science – but on the administrative side rather than in the lab.

Dr. Valeriia Sapozhnikova, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Philipp Mertins' proteomics platform, wants to explore her prospects for the future; her mentor is Dr. Giulia Caglio, a data scientist at a Berlin medical technology company. Professor Detlev Ganten, founding director of the Max Delbrück Center, will accompany Dr. Ilais Moreno Velásquez from the Berlin-North Study Center of the National Cohort NAKO on her path. The doctor from Panama aims for a career in global health. It would be hard to imagine a more suitable mentor than Ganten, who among other things is founding president of the World Health Summit and co-founder and board member of the Virchow Foundation for Global Health.

Dr. Niels Weisbach from Dr. Jakob Metzger's research group also speaks of a “perfect match.” Weisbach would like to start a career in industry. His mentor, Dr. Hana Cernecka, has taken the same path; she is now Head of Innovate Inflammation & Immunology at Evotec, a Hamburg-based company active in drug research and development.

Help jump-starting your own research

Claudia Crocini

Dr. Claudia Crocini knows just how helpful mentoring can be. She is a guest scientist at the Max Delbrück Center and has been leading a junior group of the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) at the Max Rubner Center (MRC) at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin for just over a year. "When I started, I knew exactly what I needed: support in setting up a new research group," she says.

Tim Schröder

In Dr. Tim Schröder, professor of integrated quantum photonics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU Berlin), she found a congenial partner. The physicist had taken over the leadership of the Joint Lab Diamond Nanophotonics of HU Berlin and the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut, Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik, a year earlier. “He was always one step ahead of me,” Crocini recalls. “Additionally, his perspective as a physicist on my work was inspiring.” He shared his insights into university research, which were new to her up to that point. Besides the numerous meetings in which she was able to openly discuss her concerns and needs, she found it very helpful to observe him acting as a group leader.

But it’s not just the young professionals who benefit from this exchange – the mentors do as well. “I have thought about a lot of things that never would have occurred to me before,” Tim Schröder reports. It is important to meet on an equal footing. “The mentee has many questions, the mentor brings the experience. Both sides are responsible for the exchange of ideas.” A structured approach is helpful. Claudia Crocini always had questions prepared for their meetings. “It shouldn't be too formal,” Schröder emphasizes. “In a relaxed atmosphere, it's easier for the mentee to open up.”

Zia wants to help women shine

We get to know many successful women from different fields of work there.
Julia Kraxner
Julia Kraxner Participant of Zia

In addition to its in-house mentoring programs, the Max Delbrück Center also cooperates with external programs, such as the one-year Zia fellowship program run by the ZEIT publishing house. The name Zia – in Arabic, “the shining one,” in Latin, “the seed” – symbolizes the intention behind the program: to promote the talents of young female scientists and give their careers a boost. One of them is Dr. Julia Kraxner from Professor Holger Gerhardt's research group. Since November 2023, she and 20 other fellows have been participating in monthly meetings at which experienced female speakers talk about topics such as media skills, visibility, female role models, and career paths.

“We get to know many successful women from different fields of work there,” reports Julia Kraxner. “They share their experiences with us and give tips for our own careers.” This includes, for example, deliberately taking advantage of different qualification opportunities. Julia Kraxner finds courses on science communication particularly exciting – not because she wants to hang up her lab coat at some point, but because she wants to learn how to present her research results in the most appealing and understandable way possible. Besides all the professional input she receives at Zia, she particularly appreciates networking with like-minded people: “It’s always enriching to meet new people,” she says.

Learning and networking with BR50

Marta Patrycja Cipinska

Networking was also important to Dr. Marta Cipinska when she applied last year for a place in the newly established BR50 mentoring program. BR50 is a research association that includes almost all non-university institutes and centers in the Berlin area; the Max Delbrück Center is one of the founding centers. Together with the international recruitment agency Perrett Laver, BR50 aims to support scientists and science managers on their career paths.

Marta Cipinska came to Berlin a year ago and coordinates, among other things, the PhD exchange program with the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University at the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC-BIMSB). Being new to MDC-BIMSB, she is not yet thinking much about her next step on the career ladder, she says – but she also doesn't want to rest on her laurels. She was also motivated to meet more people outside the cosmos of the Max Delbrück Center.

A self-confidence boost

The program started in October 2023 and ran for six months. During this time, networking meetings and monthly workshops were held on topics such as leadership, self-presentation, change management, and peer counseling. Marta Cipinska says that she was able to make direct use of the latter in her daily work. She also met regularly with her personal mentor: Lisbeth van Cauwenberghe, partner and research director for Europe and the Netherlands at Perrett Laver. From her, Cipinska learned that she could also use her skills as a science manager in fields other than the life sciences. All in all, she emerged from the mentoring program more self-confident: “I was able to free myself from the feeling that I am young and still have to find my way,” says Cipinska. “I now know what I can do – and that’s quite a lot.”

Michela Di Virgilio

Whether your mentoring goals are to review your resume, discover new opportunities, or prepare for a leadership role, it is always a process of growing self-awareness — for all involved, mentors and mentees alike. Professor Michela Di Virgilio notes that she has had many mentors throughout her career, and has them still, even if not within the framework of a structured program. She leads the Genome Diversification & Integrity group at the Max Delbrück Center and is herself a mentor at EU Life Pathfinder, a mentoring program for female postdocs. It isn’t necessary to wait for a spot in a program: “You can always approach experienced colleagues and ask for advice,” she says. To those experienced professionals, would-be mentors, she recommends a quote from the Pakistani-American playwright Ayesha Siddiqui: “Be the person you needed when you were young.”

Text: Jana Ehrhardt-Joswig


Further information


About the AI generated image

Prompt: A rough yet expressive sketch on a whiteboard, drawn with vibrant blue, red, and teal marker colors. It shows a female person of color mentor and a male mentee collaborating in a biomedical research lab. They are both hunched over a microscope, analyzing samples. The lab environment is depicted with beakers, petri dishes, and various scientific equipment scattered around. The seminar room's atmosphere is lively, with a sense of focused learning and collaboration. In the background are a female and a male scientist working. The female scientist is working at a personal computer.