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Agency and Networking

in Researcher Career Development

ERASMUS + Researcher Identity Development


Career Paths

Role: professional / consultant

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'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.

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)

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)

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)

1319, a North American, was working part-time at a multi-national corporation in North America when he decided to begin the PhD. Before the doctoral program, he had achieved Bachelors and Master’s degrees, and decided to pursue a PhD in order to increase his knowledge of the field. He was writing his thesis from home in North America while taking care of his family when he joined this study, having returned after several years in the UK. During the thesis writing phase, he quit his job to focus on finishing the PhD, and began a start-up to earn money to fund his studies and support his family. Following the PhD, which he completed at age 51, 1319 took a one-year teaching and research position at a university in North America, and was striving for a career in academia.

What struck us about 1319’s story was: 

  • Commitment to family that impeded work on thesis, writing up thesis from North America (personal)

  • Perceived supervisors as distant and disinterested in his PhD topic, experience of revision and resubmission of thesis (work experience)

  • Desire to work in academia contrasted with practical concerns about finances that led to seeking work in industry (career thinking) 

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)

Julius, a North American in his late twenties, had completed a master’s degree and worked in engineering and for the federal government before beginning the PhD. Julius decided to pursue doctoral work in order to advance in his field, and was in the third year of his PhD at a North American university when he joined this study. Julius was married with three children, and following the PhD, left academia to set up consulting company.

What struck us about Julius’s story was:

  • Relocation; work-life balance (personal) 

  • Developing his company alongside academic work (work experience)

  • Developing his company; importance of networking and marketing (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)

Explore the other themes


Researcher Identity Development (2020).

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