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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Role: post-phd researcher

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)

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)  

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)


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.


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.



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.

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.

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)


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.


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.

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Researcher Identity Development (2020).

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