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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Gender: timelines of men

1319, a North American, was working part-time at a multi-national corporation in North America when he decided to begin the PhD. Before the doctoral program, he had achieved Bachelors and Master’s degrees, and decided to pursue a PhD in order to increase his knowledge of the field. He was writing his thesis from home in North America while taking care of his family when he joined this study, having returned after several years in the UK. During the thesis writing phase, he quit his job to focus on finishing the PhD, and began a start-up to earn money to fund his studies and support his family. Following the PhD, which he completed at age 51, 1319 took a one-year teaching and research position at a university in North America, and was striving for a career in academia.

What struck us about 1319’s story was: 

  • Commitment to family that impeded work on thesis, writing up thesis from North America (personal)

  • Perceived supervisors as distant and disinterested in his PhD topic, experience of revision and resubmission of thesis (work experience)

  • Desire to work in academia contrasted with practical concerns about finances that led to seeking work in industry (career thinking) 

AAA, in his mid-twenties, completed a BA degree, working as an undergraduate research assistant, before he moved universities and began the PhD program in 2009 in Canada, and joined this research project in 2010. AAA chose doctoral study with the initial goal of becoming an academic, and held a lucrative and prestigious scholarship. When AAA joined this project, he was in the process of collecting and analysing data for his dissertation, and had published 2 peer-reviewed papers. He married and had a child during the first two years of the program. After completing the PhD in 2011, AAA moved to the US for a post-doc position, and his second child was born during this contract.

What struck us about AAA’s story was:

  • Birth of his children and financial issues upon transitioning to post-doc (personal)

  • Extensive collaboration and enjoyment of supervising students (work experience)

  • Consistent interest in academia (career thinking)

Alan, in his early thirties, graduated with his PhD in 2006 in Canada and then moved abroad in order to find a research-teaching position. When he joined this study in 2011, he had recently returned having found a pre-tenure position closer to home. Alan was married with two young children, and welcomed a third child during the second year of participation in this study. While experiencing a number of difficulties in achieving expectations, his achievements were sufficiently recognized that he hoped he was well on his way towards tenure.

What struck us about Alan’s story was: 

• Struggle with work-life balance; managing three children (personal)

• Importance of grant funding to reappointment; supervision (work experience)

• Consistent work towards tenure (career thinking)


Young Man

What struck us about Albert’s story was:

  • Balancing child work with work and the birth of his second child (personal)

  • Wide range of academic activities and an interest in teaching (work experience)

  • Consistent desire to work in academia (career thinking)

Albert, in his thirties, completed his PhD in 2008 in Canada, and was in the midst of his second year of post-doc work when he joined this study. Prior to the post-doc, Albert held a fellowship at a biotech company, where he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in academia, as academia would allow him to make discoveries through research. Albert was married, and welcomed his second child during the fourth year of post-doc work.


Man on Computer

What struck us about Brookeye’s story was:

  • Finding work with partner, who is also academic; birth of son and paternity leave (personal)

  • Large number of projects; acquisition of tenure-track position (work experience)

  • Consistent desire to work in academia (career thinking)

Brookeye, a North American in his late twenties, had just completed his PhD with 10 peer-reviewed presentations and 9 peer-reviewed publications when he joined this study. Brookeye initially pursued a PhD based on personal interest and to increase his knowledge of the field.  As a post-doc at a North American university, Brookeye mentored students in the lab, and engaged in various projects. By the end of this study, he had welcomed his first child with his partner, also an academic, and was in a tenure-track position.

Charles worked in a professional role in North America before starting a PhD in a local university to ensure proximity to his elderly parents and partner. He aimed to secure a research-teaching position after completing his PhD. He liked the idea of being hired for his research interests and potential contribution to the field. He began participating in the Canadian research in his fourth year of the degree and graduated in 2008 in his mid-30s.

What struck us about Charles’ story was 

  • Influence of his parents’ health (personal)

  • Challenges of publishing during degree and dramatic difference in institutional climate and expectations in researcher post (work experience)

  • Starting job-seeking late and re-thinking career intentions after disappointing research contract (career thinking) 

Daniel worked as a professional (science background) in Latin America, before doing a Master’s in North America (English as other language) and then moved to the UK with his partner and child for a PhD (social sciences). He wanted to develop the expertise he saw as lacking in his field in order to advance his professional career, imagining being a consultant taking jobs internationally. He joined the UK study at the end of PhD Year 1 and completed the degree when he was 38.

What struck us about Daniel’s story was

  • Child’s development/opportunities and re-locations of culture and language (personal)

  • Impact of supervisory relationship on intellectual work; financial issues and impact of paid work during PhD (PhD experience)

  • Working towards career goals during PhD and PhD intellectual development evident in professional work (career thinking)


Portrait of a Man

What struck us about Epsilon’s story was:

  • End of funding and financial stress as motivation to finish (personal)

  • Collaboration with peers, supervisees, clinical collaborators, and supervisor (work experience)

  • Change in plans from academia to clinical/hospital research (career thinking)

Epsilon, a North American in his mid-twenties, held Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees prior to beginning the PhD in 2008. He pursued doctoral work because he hoped to work in academia, but over the course of his studies became interested in industry due to the lifestyle demands of academia. Epsilon was in his third year of study when he joined this project in 2010. At the time, he was part of two research groups and held a national fellowship and private scholarship, as well as paid research assistant work. He hoped to find work in Canada, but as he finished, he found a post-doc contract in Europe and took it.

Funky Monkey

Smiling Man

What struck us about Funky Monkey’s story was:

  • Reliance on family support; marriage and birth of child (personal)

  • Trouble with experiments, and pressure to publish (work experience)

  • Decision to not pursue academia, viewing it as an unrealistic choice (career thinking)

Funky Monkey, in his early thirties, was in the 6th year of his PhD in Canada when he joined this project. Prior to doctoral work, he held a job as a lab tech, but felt that he needed further education in order to advance in his career and provide for his girlfriend. When Funky Monkey joined this study, he was in the process of collecting data. Data collection took longer than expected due to failed experiments. During this time, he married his girlfriend. Though he initially wanted a career in academia, after being in the PhD he no longer saw academia as a feasible career due to the limited number of positions and poor work-life balance. Still, he took a post-doc contract in a nearby university and experienced the same disillusionment as during the PhD. In the second year, he and his partner had a child which made him re-orient his priorities


Man with Headphones

What struck us about George’s story was:

  • Planning future relocations based on family and partner (personal)

  • Reliance on supervisors for writing help; trying to define post-doc research goals (work experience)

  • Openness to variety of career paths (career thinking)

George, a European student in his early thirties, achieved bachelors and master’s degrees and was working as a part-time research fellow when he began PhD work. George and decided to pursue doctoral work in order to increase his knowledge of the field, and advance his career. George was in the fifth year of his PhD at a North American university when he joined this study, and had completed his comprehensives and proposal defense.

Julius, a North American in his late twenties, had completed a master’s degree and worked in engineering and for the federal government before beginning the PhD. Julius decided to pursue doctoral work in order to advance in his field, and was in the third year of his PhD at a North American university when he joined this study. Julius was married with three children, and following the PhD, left academia to set up consulting company.

What struck us about Julius’s story was:

  • Relocation; work-life balance (personal) 

  • Developing his company alongside academic work (work experience)

  • Developing his company; importance of networking and marketing (career thinking)

Mike worked for many years as an administrator for educational programmes in a North American university. His work involved international work and he began a PhD in the same Canadian university where he worked since he felt the degree would give him greater legitimacy in working with the international partners. He intended to work full-time while doing the degree part-time. He joined the Canadian study in the fifth year of his PhD and graduated several years later when he was 41. He and his partner had children during the time he was in the study.

What struck us about Mike’s story was

  • Managing childcare (personal)

  • Lack of thesis progress and managing full-time work while doing a PhD (work experience)

  • Did PhD to gain legitimacy in position and after PhD, wanted to change jobs due to poor climate but financially not possible (career thinking) 

Paul completed his PhD in 2005, aged 35, after studying a Master’s degree. He moved to the UK, with his partner and children, to take up a two-year fixed-term contract as a post-doctoral researcher at a research-intensive university. Towards the end of this contract he joined the UK study and was considering a long-term academic career as a lecturer-researcher. He was a non-UK national and English was not his first language.

What struck us about Paul’s story was

  • Relocation decisions and dealing with his partners health (personal)

  • Demonstrating his research capabilities and managing his institutional context (work experience);

  • Advancing his career prospects (career thinking)


Sports Phone Case

What struck us about PhD’s story was:

  • Marriage, commitment to exercise and trying to maintain a work-life balance (personal)

  • Issues acquiring grant funding, commitment to teaching & supervision, Promising Young Scientist Award (work experience)

  • Academic career goals and receiving tenure (career thinking)

PhD, in his early thirties, completed his PhD in 2006 in Canada, and was in a pre-tenure position at a North American university when he joined this study in 2010. PhD had completed two post-doc contracts in two different universities before joining the study. He his partner worked as a researcher in his lab, and helped him to work towards a good work-life balance, a constant struggle. He was granted tenure during his seventh year after graduating, and looked forward to his first sabbatical.


Man Sitting

What struck us about Say’s story was:

  • Birth of two children (personal)

  • Change in research focus between PhD and post-doc (work experience)

  • Consistent desire to work in academia (career thinking)

Say, in his mid-twenties, completed a BA prior to beginning the PhD in 2007 in Canada. He chose to pursue doctoral work because of his interest in research, and he was funded by a national scholarship. When he joined this study, Say had completed his comprehensives and the data analysis for his dissertation, and had 6 peer-reviewed publications. Finishing his PhD, when he and his partner had their first child, he turned down more than one post-doc contract because he didn’t want to do the same work as his PhD. Ultimately, he got a contract he liked which involved moving across the country. Say and his partner had their first child during his final year of the PhD, and second child during the second year his post-doc work. He still wanted a research-teaching position but set a deadline for achieving it.

DB, a UK national, completed a master’s degree prior to beginning doctoral studies in 2009, and joined this during his third year of PhD work. TDB initially chose doctoral work in order to increase his knowledge and pursue intellectual interests. When TDB joined this project he had three peer-reviewed publications and held a master’s degree. He was pursing thesis by publication, and hoped to acquire a postdoc fellowship or research position following the PhD. TDB completed his PhD at the age of 25, and went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher with the same research group, continuing to apply for fellowship grants and work toward a permanent position in academia.

What struck us about TDB’s story was: 

  • Importance of small group of friends and family (personal)

  • High volume of publications, planning research projects based on what would most likely lead to publications that would advance career (work experience)

  • Focused, consistent desire to work in academia (career thinking)

Thor Bear

Men in a Meeting

What struck us about Thor Bear’s story was:

• Trying to coordinate job hunt with partner; birth of child (personal)

• Efforts to publish and network; good support from supervisor (work experience)

• Expanding career possibilities from academia to other sectors (career thinking)

Thor Bear, in his early thirties, completed his PhD in 2009 elsewhere before moving with his partner to Canada for both to do post-docs. He joined the study in 2011. At the time, his main duties involved writing research grants, supervising graduate students, writing reports, and collecting and analysing data. He was concerned about developing a unique research direction, also he and his partner finding co-located research-teaching positions, since each received offers but there was no position for the other person. He and his partner, also in academia, welcomed their first child during his first post-doctoral contract, which led them to decide they would not seek work in a research-teaching university in order to have better work-life balance.

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Researcher Identity Development (2020).

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