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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Discipline: Social Sciences


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.

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)

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)

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)


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.

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)

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)

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) 

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)  

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)

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)  


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.


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 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

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)

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)

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) 


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.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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Researcher Identity Development (2020).

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