Academic mentoring programme for international PhD students

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be (Eric Pasloe).

A dedicated mentoring programme for PhD students allows institutions to encourage students to progress with their thesis, connect PhD candidates with alumni and local peers, support academics in their professional development, and build a vibrant academic community at the institution.

International PhD students can particularly benefit from their engagement in an institutional mentoring programme by expanding their professional network in the host country, gaining knowledge about local academic culture and traditions, gain tangible academic/professional experience (e.g. workplace visits, shadowing, interview experience, placements, a graduate job), develop written and verbal communication in the local language. Academic mentoring programmes therefore greatly contribute to the professional and social integration of early-stage international scholars.


Improved skills and knowledge

Basic information
Categories Profesional & Academic Development
Mobility stages During mobility phase
Delivery schedule Continuous
Importance Important to have
Scale of organizational change
Target groups PhD student/Early career researcher R2 - R4 researchers
Types of contracts of researchers Full degree student Permanent employee
Career stages of researchers Less than 6 months 6-12-months of experience 1-3-years of experience
Lengths of stays of researchers 0-3 months 3-6 months 6-12 months More than 12 months
Practice setup

The set-up of an internal academic mentoring programme involves the following steps:

  • Needs assessment: it is important to find out what (international) PhD students and researchers actually need, as their needs can differ by field of study, experience, or position. This can be done through a survey or a focus group.

  • Resources assessment: institutions need to assess what human, time, financial and other resources their require for the programme.

  • Engagement: to bring faculty members on board, one should articulate the benefits of an institutional mentoring programme targeting international PhD students such as the quality of doctoral training and research, student motivation and satisfaction with one’s experience. Such a programme also provides an excellent opportunity to connect to (international) alumni.  

  • Format & testing: the programme can be year-long or include a series of intensive sessions with or without invited mentors. Different formats can be tried out during a testing phase.

  • Promotion: the programme can be promoted through the doctoral students’ association, doctoral schools and the @IRO. Relevant information can be included in the welcome pack prepared for international PhD students and early-stage researchers.

  • Feedback: dedicated feedback loops should be set up for international academics to explore any specific challenges they might face during the programme.

Cost of practice setup
Time required for practice setup
Personnel effort required for practice setup
Actors involved in practice setup
  • IRO/welcome centre
  • Research office
  • Doctoral school
  • Researchers association
Partners involved in practice setup
  • Other HEI/research organisation in city/region
Indicators for evaluating progress/quality of practice setup
  • Mentoring plan and program designed
  • Procedures or bylaws are defined or updated
  • Number of mentors recruited

Several higher education institutions and research organisations can team up to offer access to their respective academic mentoring programmes or to design one common programme to share resources.


Practice delivery

Once the programme has been designed, its delivery will depend on the quality and availability of participating mentors and the interest of mentees (international PhD students). It is important that mentors represent different academic career pathways and have some international experience too.   

Mentors can be recruited from the university's pool of supervisors/faculty members or from the partner higher education institutions or other organisations. Matchmaking between mentors and mentees can be organised through a dedicated online platform.

Cost of practice delivery
Time required for practice delivery
Personnel effort required for practice delivery
Actors involved in practice delivery
  • IRO/welcome centre
  • Research office
  • Doctoral school
  • Researchers association
  • Career development centre
Partners involved in practice delivery
  • Other HEI/research organisation in city/region
Indicators for evaluating progress/quality of practice delivery
  • Number of researchers assisted annually
  • Average satisfaction rate

Examples of practice

Guidance on setting up a mentoring programme for PhD students

The Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences provides support on establishing an institutional mentoring programme and offers its own mentoring programme, which consists of a two-month series of workshops and meetings helping students a) to define their career goals and the steps needed to achieve them (an Introductory Workshop organized in cooperation with the Centre for Gender and Science of the Czech Academy of Sciences), b) meet scientists and researchers from various fields (and at different stages of their career) who share their experience and advice, c) network with their peers.

Virtual meeting place for mentors and mentees

All PhD students at Karolinska Institutet (KI) are entitled to have a mentor, but it can be hard to establish new connections, especially during pandemics. Therefore, the Doctoral Students' Association in collaboration with KI career service has created a virtual meeting place to find a suitable mentor within or outside of academia willing to give advice for any question PhD students might have.

European Network of Mentoring Programmes

eument-net is a network of mentoring programmes for the advancement of equal opportunities and cultural and institutional change in academia and research. The network pursues the following goals:

  • fostering the exchange of experience and best practice among mentoring programmes coordinators;
  • promoting quality standards and highlighting the role of mentoring for the promotion of gender equality and diversity;
  • supporting the transfer of knowledge and expertise;
  • facilitating cooperation among programmes and the promotion of new mentoring activities;
  • putting mentoring on science policy agendas.