Main content

Top content

Mentoring programs of the PhD/Postdoc Career Center

German version

Mentoring Programs for Early Career Researchers

The mentoring programs organized by the ZePrOs are among the targeted and process-oriented continuing education programs for scientists in qualification phases at Osnabrück University. With this instrument, the university provides qualified female doctoral candidates and all postdocs with ideal support regarding their professional orientation and career planning. Two programs, one for female doctoral candidates and one for all postdocs, are offered alternately.

The programs, each lasting 12 months, combine an individual mentoring relationship between mentee and mentor with a demand-oriented qualification program in which the idea of networking plays an important role. In addition to the personal development and professional profiling of the mentees, the central goals of the programs are to increase the proportion of women and first-time academics in scientific leadership positions and to strengthen equal opportunities within the science system by raising the diversity awareness of future leaders.

ZePrOs mentoring programs:

  • Mentoring program for female doctoral candidates "Career perspectives after the doctorate": The next program will start mid-2025.
  • Mentoring program for all postdocs "Together on the path to a professorship": The 5th program cycle is currently running. The next program will start mid-2026.

The mentoring programs at the PhD/Postdoc Career Centre (ZePrOs) are a central component of the scientific qualification of Osnabrück University. They pursue the goal of supporting qualified scientists in early career phases in the development of their individual career paths. At the same time, they intend to contribute to strengthening equal opportunities in the scientific system.

The mentoring programs for female doctoral candidates and female postdocs at Osnabrück University were initiated in 2012 against the background that female scientists are still significantly underrepresented in leadership positions within and outside the science system, despite excellent qualifications and high motivation. With the phenomenon known as the "leaky pipeline," universities continue to lose considerable scientific potential to this day. While women accounted for 45% of doctorates in 2020, only 26% of professorships in Germany were held by women (cf.  Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz (GWK) 2022). A similar picture emerges in non-scientific areas when looking at the proportion of women in senior positions. The average proportion of women in management positions was around 30 percent in 2022 (data from Statistisches Bundesamt).

The central concern of the programs is therefore to counteract the steady decline in the proportion of women with increasing qualification levels in science and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. Against this background, both mentoring programs were open exclusively to female participants until 2019.

As part of the equality and equal-opportunity-oriented human resources development at Osnabrück University, the objective of the ZePrOs mentoring programs was expanded in 2019 to include another aspect of equal opportunity. In addition to gender, the diversity aspect of "educational background" was integrated into the program concept. In doing so, the ZePrOs responded to the results of studies that show increasing social selectivity in the science system. Thus, scientists with a non-academic background are strongly underrepresented on all scientific qualification levels as well as on the level of professorship. Even outside the science system, it can be seen that social background plays a central role for doctoral graduates in filling leadership positions and leads to inequalities here as well (Falk - Küpper 2013).

Against this background, the ZePrOs now offers two target group-specific mentoring programs in rotation, which, besides supporting the career development of female PhD candidates and postdocs, also focus both on strengthening equal opportunities between the sexes within the science system and on reducing inequalities depending on educational origin. These goals are conceptually implemented differently in the two programs. The mentoring program developed for the doctoral phase continues to be open exclusively to female doctoral candidates. The program for the postdoc phase has been open to all scientists of Osnabrück University since 2021.

Nationwide studies confirm the effectiveness and individual benefits of mentoring programs for scientists in qualification phases (cf. Briedis et al. 2013, Krempkow et al. 2016, Höppel 2016), which are now offered at over 100 universities and have established themselves as important components of scientific qualification. The programs for early career researchers at Osnabrück University have also proven to be extremely successful instruments for supporting career development, as the accompanying evaluations that are part of the quality assurance have shown. Since 2012, over 120 mentees in ten program cycles have successfully completed the programs.



•    Briedis, Kolja, Steffen Jaksztat, Julia Schneider, Anke Schwarzer, Mathias Winde (2013): Personalentwicklung für den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs, Edition Stifterverband. Essen, (14.10.2016).

•    Falk, Susanne, Küpper, Hans-Ulrich, Verbessert der Doktortitel die Karrierechancen von Hochschulabsolventen? Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung - Themenheft "Berufserfolg von Akademikern" Heft 1, 2013, (14.10.2016).

•    GWK Chancengleichheit in Wissenschaft und Forschung, 26. Fortschreibung des Datenmaterials (2020/2021) zu Frauen in Hochschulen und außerhochschulischen Forschungseinrichtungen, 2022.

•    Höppel, Dagmar (2016): Aufwind mit Mentoring. Wirksamkeit von Mentoring-Projekten zur Karriereförderung von Frauen in der Wissenschaft. Schriften zur interdisziplinären Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung, Band 11. Nomos.

•    Krempkow, Rene, Thorben Sembritzki, Ramona Schürmann, Mathias Winde (2016): Personalentwicklung für den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs. Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft e.V., (14.10.2016).

Twelve to fourteen early career researchers from different Schools of Osnabrück University are recruited to the mentoring programs per cycle. Participants are selected in the course of a two-stage application process consisting of a written application followed by an interview with the program committee consisting of members of the project team and the Scientific Advisory Council.

The program committee decides about admission to the program based on the applicant's motivation and potential. Moreover, the composition of the group is taken into account. Applicants who cannot be admitted to the program receive an alternative support offer.
Participants are charged a fee to contribute towards the costs, which can be paid in installments. Please check the program websites for details.

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.

Chances for mentees:

  • 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

Chances for mentors:

  • 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

Advantages for the university:

  • Improvement in the 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)

Mentoring can be defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced executive (the mentor) assists an 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 have become 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.

Peer mentoring describes the exchange of experience and mutual support among a group of people at the same qualification level who regularly come together for structured working meetings.