Open Access Open Badges Research article

Between forwarding and mentoring: a qualitative study of recommending medical doctors for international postdoctoral research positions

Dario Sambunjak* and Matko Marušić

Author Affiliations

1Department for Research in Medicine and Healthcare, University of Split, School of Medicine, Split, Croatia

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:31  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-31

Published: 9 June 2011



Young scientists rarely have extensive international connections that could facilitate their mobility. They often rely on their doctoral supervisors and other senior academics, who use their networks to generate opportunities for young scientists to gain international experience and provide the initial trigger for an outward move.


To explore the process of informal recommending of young physicians from a small country for postdoctoral research positions in foreign countries, we conducted in-depth interviews with eight senior academics who acted as recommenders and eight physicians who, based on the recommendations of senior academics, spent at least a year working in a laboratory abroad. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed by using the framework approach.


The findings showed that recommending can take four distinct forms: 1) forwarding information, 2) passive recommending, 3) active recommending, and 4) mentor recommending. These forms differ in their level of commitment and mutual trust among actors, and possible control over the success of the process. Two groups of recommendees - 'naive' and 'experienced' - can be distinguished based on their previous scientific experience and research collaboration with the recommender. Crucial for the success of the process is an adequate preparation of recommendees' stay abroad, as well as their return and reintegration. The benefits of recommending extend beyond the individual participants to the scientific community and broader society of the sending country.


With a sufficient level of commitment by the actors, informal recommending can be a part of or grow into an all-encompassing developmental relationship equal to mentoring. The importance of senior academics' informal contacts and recommendations in promoting junior scientists' mobility should be acknowledged and encouraged by the research institutions and universities, particularly in developing countries.