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Mentoring for early career researchers at Osnabrück University

German version

Mentoring programs for early career researchers are one of the targeted instruments for developing scholars at Osnabrück University. The University’s programs help to give highly-qualified scholars the best possible opportunities to achieve their career goals. The central aim of the programs is to enhance equal opportunities in the scientific system. The programs combine the individual mentoring relationship between mentees and mentors with a needs-oriented training program, in which networking plays an important role. Two mentoring programs are established at Osnabrück University’s PhD/Postdoc Career Center (ZePrOs):

  • Mentoring for female doctoral candidates "Career perspectives after the doctorate" (the current program has started in January 2023)
  • Mentoring for postdocs "Paths to a professorship" (starting again in summer 2024)

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Gafik: Universität Osnabrück

Mentoring can be defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced executive (the mentor) assists a early career researcher with leadership potential (the mentee). The mentoring relationship is geared towards developing the mentee’s career and personality. Mentoring is a type of informal learning in which experience and knowledge are exchanged between people at different stages of development who come from different hierarchy levels.

Although mentoring programs are well established in industry and politics, they became popular at universities only since the 1990s. In higher education, they are used as a tool for ensuring equal opportunities and the effective, targeted development of early career researchers .


Already in 2012 Osnabrück University initiated the mentoring programs for female early career researchers considering that women despite having a high qualification as well as motivation are still underrepresented in management positions within and outside academia. This phenomenon, known as the “leaky pipeline”, signifies a substantial loss of academic potential for universities. Therefore the programs especially aimed at counteracting the steady decline of the proportion of women with increasing level of qualification as well as the under-representation of women in management positions. In the framework of human resource development at Osnabrück University supporting equal opportunities, the objectives of the mentoring programs were extended by another diversity aspect in 2019. In addition to the topic of gender, the diversity feature “educational background” has been integrated. The PhD/Postdoc Career Center thus reacts on studies that prove an increasing social selectivity within the science system. Accordingly, scholars with a non-academic background on all levels of qualification as well as on the level of professors are highly underrepresented. Against this background, the PhD/Postdoc Career Center offers two targeted mentoring programs in alternation, which not only focus on the support of equal opportunities for men and women but also on reducing inequalities in regard to the educational background. These objectives are implemented conceptually differently in the two programs. Whereas the mentoring program targeted for the PhD phase continues to be open exclusively for female doctoral candidates, the program for the postdoc phase and junior professors was opened for all scholars in 2021.

Advantages of mentoring programs

All of the parties involved benefit from mentoring programs. The mentees, who have the largest gain, are given individual academic career guidance. However, the mentors who engage voluntarily in developing early career researchers and the universities that include developing early career researchers in their range of services also benefit from it.

How mentees benefit:
•    Individual support in strategic career planning
•    Training in science-specific and interdisciplinary key competencies
•    Strengthening of management and leadership skills
•    Advancing knowledge of higher education policy and the acquisition of research funding
•    Information about informal “rules of the game” within the system of higher education
•    Development of interdisciplinary networks

How mentors benefit:
•    Active role in developing early career researchers and enjoyment in developing people professionally
•    Feedback and information from another hierarchical level, which own employees may not reflect back as openly
•    Reflection on one’s own career path and management experience
•    Further development of advisory skills and stimulation of new ideas for one’s own work
•    Expansion of interdisciplinary scientific networks

How the University benefits:
•    Improvement in quality of developing early career researchers
•    Advantages in the competition for early career researchers thanks to targeted, needs-oriented support
•    Contribution to gender-sensitive scientific culture by promoting equal opportunities
•    Creation of synergies through networking (e.g. new collaborative research projects on interdisciplinary issues)

Logos: Universität Osnabrück