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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Role: research-teaching position

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.


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.

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Researcher Identity Development (2020).

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