top of page

Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Gender: timelines of women

Ann, Canadian in her mid-thirties, completed her PhD in 2009 in another country before returning to Canada with her partner for a 3-year post-doc position – though her partner, also a researcher, had difficulty finding full-time employment. Ann originally undertook a PhD in order to increase her knowledge and advance in the field, and joined this study in 2010 during her second year of post-doc work. As a post-doc, Ann worked in a large lab and initially considered a career in academia before deciding to pursue work in clinical trials and patents. She and her partner welcomed their first child near the end of her post-doc

What struck us about Ann’s story was:

  • Issues with partner being able to find work and birth of child (personal)

  • Lack of supervision and opportunities to collaborate (work experience)

  • Gradual disinterest in academia (career thinking)

Barbara had moved from another North American city, got married and been teaching at the university level for a number of years. She began her PhD in another local university shortly after having a baby. She intended a research-teaching position locally given she did not want to disrupt the lives of her partner and baby (her husband preferred not to move though she would have been happy to). She joined the Canadian study in the second year of her PhD and graduated when she was in her early 40s.

What struck us about Barbara’s story was 

  • no time for self and partner; reluctant to move during degree (personal) 

  • needed to work for financial reasons during degree and did research on the side in teaching position (work experience) 

  • strategic in developing academic profile during degree and worked toward long-term career vision (career thinking)

Bridget had worked for many years as an academic professional in a North American university where she oversaw a research collection and provided pedagogical support to those using it. In the early 2000’s, her job was expanded to include community engagement. She very much enjoyed this new aspect of her work and intended to remain in it. She started a PhD part-time when she was in her mid-30s to expand her knowledge and become more effective. She continued to work full-time, while also raising a family. She joined the Canadian study in 2007 in her second year of doctoral study.

What struck us about Bridget’s story was 

  • Time pressures and family responsibilities during degree (personal) 

  • Lack of supervisor support and wanting to stay in same job (work experience) 

  • Doing degree to be more effective in work (career thinking)

Catherine did volunteer work while raising her children and then started working in a local university research institute as she was unable to move due to family. Her initial role was as a data in-putter and research assistant before she decided to do a PhD. A publication during her degree was still often cited. On graduation at 48, she was offered a position as researcher in the same institute and joined the UK study in 2008 in her fifth year as a researcher still imagining a research-teaching position locally. While her family was older so she had less responsibility, she had ageing parents who required some visiting and caring for.​

What struck us about Catherine’s story was 

  • Handling anxiety and family health crises (personal)

  • Repeated research contracts and fellowship a time of relative freedom  (work experience)

  • Embedding institutional funds into salary by taking on administration and institutional resistance to making her position permanent (career thinking)


Woman Portrait

What struck us about Cathy’s story was 

  • No work-life balance (personal)

  • Financial issues during degree meant seeking more work and taking on governance issues in post (work experience)

  • Changing career intention and career management (career thinking)

Cathy had a professional practice before beginning her PhD in a local North America university, given she did not want to move her young family. She imagined seeking a local research-teaching position afterwards. She began participating in the Canadian study in 2007 in the third year of her degree. She completed the degree in 2009 when she was in her early-to-mid-40s.

Claude, an international student in her mid-twenties, moved to Canada for her undergraduate degree and then PhD. She chose to undertake doctoral study based on intellectual interest, and a desire to increase her knowledge of the field. Prior to beginning the PhD in 2008, she taught for one year at the college level. Claude joined this study in 2010, and had completed her comprehensives and dissertation proposal. When Claude began the PhD, she intended to work in academia, but due to personal circumstances and dissatisfaction with the academic culture, decided to return home following the PhD and pursue other interests

What struck us about Claude’s story was:

  • Her mother’s death and relocation to home country (personal)

  • Issues with collaboration and competition between labs (work experience)

  • Move away from interest in academia to pursuing farming and gardening interests (career thinking)

CM had been a pharmaceutical representative, research assistant and teacher, prior to completing her PhD in 2005, aged 33. When her partner’s job was relocated to the UK she moved here with their children. She obtained a fixed-term position as a senior researcher at a research-intensive university and joined the UK study 5 months into this 18 month contract. She was deliberating an academic career. She was a non-UK national and English was not her first language

What struck us about CM’s story was

  • Relocation challenges and work-life balance (personal)

  • Understanding her institutional context and gaining independence (work experience)

  • Getting tenure/ permanence and networking challenges (career thinking)


Woman at desk

What struck us about Elizabeth’s story was

  • How health issues and family considerations shaped her choices (personal)

  • Writing and intellectual contribution, and balancing job hunting, part-time and consultancy work (work experience)

  • Employability and seeking the work she desired (career thinking)

Elizabeth worked in a skilled service role before returning to part-time study for her first degree and then commenced a full-time PhD in a different subject area. She joined the UK study whilst in the third year of her doctorate; she graduated the following year when age 45. Elizabeth envisaged a career in a research role with no teaching commitments. After graduation she worked in part-time and consultancy roles as she sought a permanent appointment. She had two teenage children with her long-term partner and was concerned for her ageing parents. During the study she was diagnosed with a chronic illness and defined herself as living with disability



What struck us about Flora’s story was:

  • Prioritizing of work-life balance (personal)

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

  • Desire to stay in current city as affecting career prospects (career thinking) 

Flora, a North American in her mid-twenties, was in her fifth year of the PhD when she joined this study.  Prior to beginning the PhD, Flora held Bachelors and Master’s degrees, and decided to pursue doctoral work when she saw a project posted on her supervisor’s website that fit her interests and experience. When she joined this study, Flora was working on collecting and analyzing data, and was considering work in teaching or research. Following the PhD, Flora began a post-doc position at a hospital institute. She and her partner planned to stay in their current city and did not want to relocate.


Woman Artist

What struck us about Ginger’s story was 

  • Frequent re-locations during degree and health issues in research-teaching position (personal) 

  • Writing challenges and interdisciplinarity ongoing degree (work experience) 

  • Getting tenure/permanence and advancing career prospects in research-teaching post (career thinking)

Ginger had worked in a range of professional positions before moving cities in North America to do her master’s degree. She moved again to pursue her PhD, including moving between countries and imagined a research-teaching position afterwards. Ginger did not have a partner or children, but maintained a geographically-dispersed personal network and frequent contact with her ageing mother. She joined the study in 2006 as she began her second year of doctoral study and graduated when she was in her mid-50s.


Woman Tutoring Child

What struck us about Hannah’s story was

  • Family considerations and her partner’s health (personal)

  • Financial burden of doing a PhD and not being able to do the work she desired (work experience);

  • Seeking the job she desired and changing job to match her expectations (career thinking)

Hannah was a health care professional before starting her PhD which was funded by grants from a Research Council and the university, and employment income. She joined the UK study whilst writing up her thesis in her final year of doctoral study; she graduated that same year aged 40. Hannah envisaged pursuing a ‘hybrid’ career in which she could maintain her practice and do research. She had a partner and three children.

Holly was a full-time teacher in a religious-affiliated school and single mother with pre-school age children. She began her PhD in a local university in North America to get her ‘brain back,’ while continuing to work full-time to make ends meet. In 2006 when she began to participate in the Canadian research program, she was working on her dissertation. She hoped for a teaching-only university position afterwards. She graduated when she was in her mid-to-late-30s.

What struck us about Holly’s story was 

  • Being a single parent and re-locating with family (personal)

  • Financial issues during the degree and managing teaching responsibilities in her post (work experience)

  • Choosing a teaching career during degree and dealing with lack of career development structure in her position (career thinking)  

Jennifer worked as a professional in North America and obtained a Master’s degree before migrating to the UK in order to complete a second Master’s qualification. She joined the UK study while finalising her doctorate; she graduated that year when age 32. She envisaged a career in academia, as long as she could make a meaningful contribution to society. At the study’s outset she was working in two part-time research posts at the same research institute as her partner. The following year they both secured academic positions at another University and relocated. Jennifer worked long hours to meet her research and teaching commitments; her work-life balance was transformed by the birth of her first child. By the study’s end her probationary appointment had become permanent and she was confident about her identity as an academic.

What struck us about Jennifer’s story was

  • Quality of life, relationships, co-location and parenting (personal)

  • Publishing and tension between research and teaching (work experience)

  • Departmental/institutional politics and academic identity (career thinking)

Kadyna, an EU national, had attained BSc and Master’s degrees and was working part-time as a research assistant at a UK university when she began the part-time PhD program in 2010. Kadyna chose doctoral work in order to advance in the field and pursue intellectual interests. Kadyna joined this research project in 2011, having already completed transfer of status, data collection, and received ethical consent for her research. Upon finishing the PhD at age 37, Kadyna spent one year in a post-doctoral position before moving to an industrial organization, and hoped to start a family with her partner.

What struck us about Kadyna’s story was: 

  • Family planning and work-life balance (personal)

  • Balancing full-time employment and doctoral work, conference presentations as enhancing sense of self as academic (work experience) 

  • Change in career interest from academia to industry due to stress of having to constantly look for funding, and desire to establish work-life balance (career thinking)

Katherine, a UK national, held a BA degree and worked as an auditor prior to beginning her PhD. Katherine chose PhD work in order to advance her knowledge of the field, and pursue intellectual interests. She joined the study during her second year of doctoral work, as she was busy with data collection and analysis. As a doctoral student Katherine experienced a change of supervisors, took an industrial placement linked to her funding, and later interned at an open science organization while completing her thesis. On graduating at age 26, Katherine was working full-time across two positions, four days a week as a research project coordinator in a university and one day at an NGO where she had previously volunteered. She hoped for a job in the field of open science.

What struck us about Katherine’s story was: 

  • End of long-distance relationship, and beginning of new relationship (personal)

  • Lack of interaction with original supervisor, acquiring a new supervisor when original supervisor left, industrial placement work (work experience)

  • Desire to work in open science and promote research (career thinking)

KS took her first degree in North America, and then worked for several years in different professional capacities. Wanting something new and challenging, she moved to the UK, leaving a close-knit family, to do her MSc and then changed universities to take a one-year research position after graduating. She joined the UK study in 2008 shortly afterwards. The following year she began her PhD, imagining a research-teaching position as her future, and graduated when she was 35.

What struck us about KS’ story was

  • Family illness and hoping for parenthood (personal)

  • Dealing with rejection and the solitary nature of writing during degree (work experience)

  • Concern about lack of research-teaching positions during degree and networking to find work (career thinking)  

Monika, single, English as another language, had worked professionally for many years before doing her PhD in North America. She lived a two-hour commute from the university and continued to work part-time during the degree for financial reasons. She joined the Canadian study in 2006 in her third year of her PhD. She imagined a local research-teaching position given she was caring for her elderly parents, and completed the degree when she was 49.

What struck us about Monika’s story was

  • Ongoing stress and parental care (personal)

  • Issues with supervision feedback and working to deal with financial issues during the degree (work experience)

  • Not having publications so not competitive and teaching part-time the only academic work she could get (career thinking)

Nancy began her degree in 2005 and joined the study the year after. Earlier, she had left her European homeland to move elsewhere in Europe for her undergrad (different language). After meeting her future partner on an exchange program, she moved to Canada to join him and taught part-time at the same university as him (he was in a permanent teaching position). She continued teaching during the degree to partly fund her studies. On completing, she hoped for a research-teaching position but was open to other options since she and her partner did not want to move.

What struck us about Nancy’s story was

  • Managing work-life balance (personal)

  • Financing the PhD and collaborative research on the side in her later post (work experience)

  • Changing career intentions and growing confidence in leadership role (career thinking)


Tattooed Woman

What struck us about Nellie’s story was

  • Work-life balance and separation from family in post-PhD position (personal)

  • Advancing her research profile and managing in a toxic department in position (work experience)

  • Job seeking during the degree and dealing with re-appointment in her post (career thinking)

Nellie began her Master’s in North America when her children were approaching their teens and were more independent. While raising them, she had done volunteer work. She continued on to a PhD when her supervisor suggested it and hoped for a position in a research-intensive university. She joined the Canadian study in her fourth year of the degree and graduated when she was 48.

Nina gained a Bachelors and a Master’s degree prior to undertaking doctoral study funded by a Research Council grant. She joined the UK study in 2008 whilst in the second year of her doctoral studies. At that point she was undecided about her future career. Her immediate family were in the UK whilst her partner was a national of another country, with a job based in Europe and wider family living across Europe and South America. Nina graduated with her PhD aged 27.

What struck us about Nina’s story was

  • Co-locating with her partner and striving for a work-life balance (personal)

  • Managing as a teacher  and understanding institutional differences (work experience)

  • Openness to various post-PhD careers and advancing her career options (career thinking)

Onova, a North American in her mid-30s, was finishing a two-year post-doc when she joined this study in 2011. Onova had completed her PhD in 2008, and had done doctoral work in order to increase her knowledge of the field and pursue intellectual interests. Following her post-doc, Onova secured a pre-tenure position in which she received major grants and worked on putting down roots in the community.

What struck us about Onova’s story was:

• New partner; building a home (personal)

• Receiving major grants; desire to see students progress; problematic students (work experience)

• Consistent work towards tenure; confidence (career thinking)

Regina worked professionally in North America before moving away from a close-knit family to do her Master’s and there met her partner. After her Master’s, she got a national fellowship to do a PhD and though she could have gone anywhere to do the degree she stayed in the university where she was, given her partner and her circle of friends. She imagined a research-teaching position afterwards. She joined the Canadian study in the 3rd year of the degree and graduated when she was 30.

What struck us about Regina’s story was

  • Career and work decisions made around children (personal)

  • Learning institutional ropes during the degree and networking extensively beyond the institution in her post-PhD position (work experience)

  • Negotiating time for her own research and building competitive profile slowly but consistently (career thinking)

SA, a UK national, had earned BSc and Master’s degrees prior to beginning the PhD in 2009 when she was 24. She chose doctoral work in order to advance in the field and pursue intellectual interests. SA joined this project in 2011, while focusing on the data collection and analysis phase of her research. She was part of a lab group, and taught master’s and undergraduate students. SA completed the PhD at 26 years old, and then began working as a post-doctoral researcher at a private company. She envisioned herself in a research position, but also wanted to settle down with her partner, and thus ended up expanding her job search beyond academia.

What struck us about SA’s story was: 

  • Changes in thinking over time about settling down and establishing a home base with partner (personal)

  • Choosing thesis by publication to advance initial goal of work in academia, and managing projects and publications as post-doctoral researcher in industry (work experience)

  • Change in career goals following the PhD, deciding that industry rather than academia would align with her life goals (career thinking) 

Shannon was a professional promoting social justice issues in North America. A colleague encouraged her to apply for a scholarship in Europe since it would develop her expertise. The scholarship was awarded, so she left her close-knit family intent on doing professional work in the same vein when she graduated. She joined the UK study in her third year and was 25 when she graduated.

What struck us about Shannon’s story was

  • Work-life balance and impact of re-locating (personal)

  • Managing work in post-PhD work and developing new skills (work experience)

  • Wanted professional role but postponed career thinking until finished degree and work environment untenable in first post-PhD position, so sought other position (career thinking)


Woman's Portrait

What struck us about Sam’s story was:

• Long-distance relationship; mental health (personal)

• Dissatisfaction with PhD work (work experience)

• Uncertainty as to long-term career goals (career thinking)

Sam, a North American in his late 20s, was working in the private sector following a master’s degree when he began the PhD. Sam decided to do a PhD in order to pursue intellectual interests and increase his knowledge of the field. When Sam joined this study, he was in the fourth year of his PhD. He took a researcher position at a non-profit organization following graduation, and remained uncertain about his ultimate career goals, but considered finding work near his long-distance partner.

Sophia, a European in her mid thirties, was working as an environmental consultant when she began the PhD, and was in a pre-tenure position at a North American university when she joined this study. Sophia was involved in publications, teaching, and grant applications, and was hoping to stay in North America. Sophia was married with one child, and welcomed a second child during her fourth year of participation in this study.

What struck us about Sophia’s story was:

  • Balancing childcare and partner’s work schedule (personal)

  • Receiving large grants (work experience)

  • Finding position with partner; consistent desire to stay in academia (career thinking)


Business Woman Typing

What struck us about Storm’s story was:

  • Moving and coordinating career plans with partner (personal)

  • Increasing research and publication experience; expertise in statistics (work experience)

  • Growing interest in academia and assistant professor position right after PhD (career thinking)

Storm, an international student in her mid-thirties, was a certified physician in her native country and immigrated to Canada following her partner before beginning the PhD in 2009. Storm chose to pursue doctoral study because she hoped to be a researcher and a physician. When she joined this study, she had completed her comprehensives, dissertation proposal, data collection, and analysis. Storm was married to another academic, and finished writing her dissertation in Australia, where she temporarily relocated due to her partner’s job. She and her partner accepted research-teaching positions at a UK university following Storm’s PhD.


Islamic Woman

What struck us about Tina’s story was:

• Commuting for work (personal)

• Strategic preparation for job interviews (work experience)

• Consistent desire to work in academia (career thinking)

Tina, a North American in her mid-thirties, was working as a project agent in government when she began the PhD. Tina chose doctoral work in order to build a career in academia, increase her knowledge of the field, and pursue intellectual interests. When Tina joined this study, she was just about to graduate, and move into a post-doctoral fellowship.


Stressed Woman

What struck us about Trudi’s story was

  • Work-life balance, relationships and location (personal)

  • Taking on management responsibilities, research funding and publications (work experience)

  • Commitment to academia, job security and strategic career planning (career thinking)

Trudi, age 36 on joining the UK study, came from Australasia and had migrated to work in a professional position. Later she returned to study, completing her Master’s and then a PhD when aged 33. Her partner remained overseas due to his work commitments. When she joined the study Trudi was working in a researcher post in a university research institute; she was interested in pursuing an academic career, yet was concerned about job insecurity. By the end of the study she had secured a permanent academic position; however, she had become less certain about the academy as a long-term career.

Explore the other themes


Researcher Identity Development (2020).

Review our Privacy Policy & Information about cookies.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Improving the careers and well-being of researchers

bottom of page