Archived project

Researcher Identity in the Social Sciences (RIESS) (Lynn McAlpine's team)

Goal: This comparative research project (UK, SPAIN and FINLAND) on Researcher Identity in the Social Sciences (RIESS) aims to produce knowledge and effective online resources to support new researcher development in the European context. Principal investigator: Montserrat Castelló Badia

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Isabelle Skakni
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This study examines the impact of career uncertainty on post-PhD researchers’ experiences. Drawing on an identity-trajectory approach and a qualitative design, we analysed experiences of post-PhDs from the UK and Switzerland. Our findings show that in the course of their work experiences, career uncertainty takes two different forms: intellectual uncertainty and occupational uncertainty. On a daily basis, both forms strongly impact the participants’ work and personal lives and can limit their ability to plan for the future, restrict their developing research expertise and networks and induce tension in trying to reconcile work and personal lives. While often struggling with a blurred institutional status, participants ‘hang tough’ despite their uncertain situation, notably by clinging to their academic researcher identity. Contributing to the previous work on the increasing casualisation of post-PhD positions and the resulting challenges, our study offers new insights into how different aspects of career uncertainty influence post PhDs’ work and identity.
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Purpose – This study aims to examine how post-PhD researchers construct their identities through significant work experiences as they endeavour to develop their research independence and a distinct scholarly profile. The authors were especially interested in how they made meaning of their important work experiences, the ones that were emotionally salient. Design/methodology/approach – Using a narrative approach, the analysis was conducted on a data subset from a large cross-national mixed-methods research project about early-career researchers’ identity development. The sample included 71 post-PhD researchers from the UK who completed an online survey. Ten of whom were also interviewed through a semi-structured protocol. Findings – Post-PhD researchers considered work experiences to be significant when those experiences helped them to gauge whether their self-representation as researchers was coherent and a further research career was practicable. The same type of significant event (e.g. publishing in a prestigious journal) could hold different meanings depending on who experienced it. Positive experiences helped to maintain their motivation and made them feel that they were consolidating their identities. Negative experiences tended to challenge their sense of identity and their sense of belonging to academia. Whereas positive feelings towards a significant experience appeared to persist over time, negative feelings seemed to fade or evolve through selfreflection, but ultimately had greater saliency. Originality/value – Few previous studies have been conducted on how emotionally powerful work experiences influence post-PhD researchers’ identity development. Besides highlighting how emotions and feelings, often-neglected aspects of identity development, influence the process, this study offers a constructive – and, in some ways, alternative – view of the impact that negative experiences have on their identity development.
Private Profile
added a project goal
This comparative research project (UK, SPAIN and FINLAND) on Researcher Identity in the Social Sciences (RIESS) aims to produce knowledge and effective online resources to support new researcher development in the European context. Principal investigator: Montserrat Castelló Badia