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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Sector: academic


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.

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)  

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)


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.

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)

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)

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)


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.

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 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.

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)


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.

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)


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.

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)

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.

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)

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)


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.

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



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.


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.

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)


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.


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.

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)  

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.


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.

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)

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) 

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)

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