The history of mentoring


The term mentoring is derived from Greek mythology.

  • When Ulysses left home, he placed his son Telemachos with his friend Mentor and asked Mentor to support Telemachus as he would grow up.
  • Mentoring focuses on experience – Telemachos as a youngster had little, Mentor as an adult man had more, especially with a view to the rules of public male society.
  • Experience means to learn: We build competences and networks as we experience critical situations.

So mentors have more experience than mentees, often with regard to questions of career development. The specific topic of a mentoring relationship is defined jointly by the tandem. Mentees can benefit from the experience of their mentors.


  • Important: Experience with regard to which topic is key for the mentee? What is the expertise that I would like to tap on? With mentoring in science that means: It is not the content of your research. Mentoring often works best among those whose research areas are not too close.
  • Prerequisites for a successful mentoring relationship are that the mentor is willing to share their experience and that the mentee is willing to learn from that.
  • Modern mentoring dates back to the 1970s, when
    • it was introduced in the USA as career development
    • within an organization: the mentee was expected to stay in that organization
  • In Germany, the academic system witnessed the introduction of mentoring programmes in the 1990s. Their purpose was to support female careers. They were usually created by equal opportunities officers.

Photography: Pablo E. Fabisch

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