ArticlePDF Available

Careers beyond the traditional: Integrating individual and structural factors for a richer account.


Abstract and Figures

More than half of PhD graduates work outside academia. Yet we know little of the nature of their post-PhD careers and the conditions influencing them. Further, research to date tends to focus on either individual factors (e.g., graduate perceptions of PhD skills used) or structural factors (e.g., organizational interest in hiring PhDs). Few studies examine the intersection between individual and structural factors that actually influences career trajectories. Thus, this study was an exploratory examination of UK and Swiss non-traditional PhD careers in which we conceptually and empirically linked structural factors to individual experiences. The results provide a richer, more nuanced picture of PhD career trajectories, showing, for instance, how structural factors like distinct national economic climate and employment patterns intersected with individual factors like job-seeking strategies and job selection. The study’s originality lies in a narrative cross-case approach that merged empirical evidence from interviews with secondary data. We conclude by assessing the value of using such an integrative framework as well as suggesting areas for future research.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
European Journal of Higher Education
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage:
Phd careers beyond the traditional: integrating
individual and structural factors for a richer
L. McAlpine , I. Skakni & K. Inouye
To cite this article: L. McAlpine , I. Skakni & K. Inouye (2021): Phd careers beyond the traditional:
integrating individual and structural factors for a richer account, European Journal of Higher
To link to this article:
Published online: 11 Jan 2021.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Phd careers beyond the traditional: integrating individual
and structural factors for a richer account
L. McAlpine
, I. Skakni
and K. Inouye
Department of Education, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;
Faculty of Education, McGill University,
Montreal, Canada;
Department of Educational Science, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;
The Rectorate,
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, Lausanne, Switzerland
More than half of PhD graduates work outside academia. Yet we
know little of the nature of their post-PhD careers and the
conditions inuencing them. Further, research to date tends to
focus on either individual factors (e.g., graduate perceptions of
PhD skills used) or structural factors (e.g., organizational interest
in hiring PhDs). Few studies examine the intersection between
individual and structural factors that actually inuences career
trajectories. Thus, this study was an exploratory examination of
UK and Swiss non-traditional PhD careers in which we
conceptually and empirically linked structural factors to individual
experiences. The results provide a richer, more nuanced picture
of PhD career trajectories, showing, for instance, how structural
factors like distinct national economic climate and employment
patterns intersected with individual factors like job-seeking
strategies and job selection. The studys originality lies in a
narrative cross-case approach that merged empirical evidence
from interviews with secondary data. We conclude by assessing
the value of using such an integrative framework as well as
suggesting areas for future research.
Received 11 May 2020
Accepted 16 November 2020
Career trajectories; individual
and structural factors;
non-traditional PhD positions
Globally, more than half of PhD graduates work outside academia (Heuritsch, Waaijer,
and van der Weijden 2016; Neumann and Tan 2011)with some variation by country.
Yet, our knowledge of the nature and range of these post-PhD careers and the conditions
inuencing them is still limited. One group of studies examines graduatesperceptions to
understand individual inuences on career decisions and experiences, but without refer-
ence to actual work responsibilities, organizational structures or national inuences: for
instance, perceptions of non-academic jobs as attractive (Neumann and Tan 2011), and
job satisfaction (di Paolo and Mañé 2016). Another group of studies examines structural
factors inuencing PhD non-traditional
hires, using employer perceptions and desk
research, rarely reporting individual factors beyond discipline. Such studies have
focused on institutional motivation to hire PhDs (Herrera and Nieto 2013) and regional
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT L. McAlpine Department of Education, University of Oxford, 15 Norham
Gardens, OX2 6PY, Oxford, UK; Faculty of Education, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
and national inuences on hiring skilled workers (Garcia-Quevedo, Mas-Verdu, and
Polo-Otero 2012; Oyer 2006).
However, these studies fail to capture the intersection between individual and struc-
tural factors that inuence non-traditional PhD career trajectories (Jiang et al. 2019-
careers generally; Pedersen 2014). Thus, we decided to conduct an exploratory study
of non-traditional PhD careers in the UK and Switzerland in which we conceptually
and empirically linked structural factors to individual experiences creating, we
hoped, a richer, more nuanced picture of PhD career trajectories.
Career trajectory: integrating the individual and structural
While there are many conceptions of the individual and the structural, we view the two as
mutually constitutive (McAlpine and Amundsen 2018) in that individualslives and work
experiences exist within local through global practices and regimes with both changing
through time. We characterize the individual experience as identity-trajectory (McAl-
pine, Amundsen, and Turner 2014) and the multiple regimes as nested contexts (McAl-
pine and Norton 2006).
Identity-trajectory emerged from a longitudinal empirical study of early career
researchers. It characterizes the ways in which prior learning experiences and motiv-
ations, situated in bio-historical time, lead to increasingly unique constellations of
individual thinking and action. A key element is situating work and career within
the broader life course (Levinson 1986), meaning that work decisions are made in
relation to life intentions and experiences. Agency (intention and emotional invest-
ment) represents variation in individualseorts to create and work towards life
and career intentions, situated within the nested structural factors that are also
Career opportunity structures represent an individuals knowledge, possibly inaccur-
ate or incomplete, about career possibilities; Horizons for action reduces the potential
opportunity structures as it represents how broader life factors, such as personal
values and family can inuence career options at the time of job searching. Opportu-
nity structures and horizons for action are the principal way in which structural and
individual factors interact in identity-trajectory. The other is bio-historical time: the
relation between where the individual is in the career trajectory and historical
events that may impact life experience, e.g., the 2020 pandemic, the 2007-8 global
The model of nested contexts, based on a review of the PhD literature, characterizes the
interaction between three structural contexts within which the individual is situated. This
model has proven useful in exploring how individualsexperiences, thinking, and actions
are situated within structural constraints and aordances. The micro context refers to the
workplace practices in which every day work takes place. It is nested within the meso
context, which represents organizational structures, polices, procedures and practices.
The micro and meso contexts are further nested within and interact with the macro
context that incorporates societal and economic climates, and national and international
policies and practices.
Identity-trajectory within nested contexts oers a conceptual framework to analyse
what the research says about non-traditional PhD trajectories.
Individual factors inuencing PhD careers: identity-trajectory
Agency and prior experience: Each individual develops a dierent set of career assets,
motivations, and intentions with thinking and action related to work largely aligning
with life thinking and actions (McAlpine and Amundsen 2018: UK and Canada
Prior work, including during the degree, may inuence where PhD graduates take up
jobs (Herrera and Nieto 2016: Spain; Kyvik and Olsen 2012: Norway), while prior mobi-
lity also increases the likelihood of choosing to move again (Germain-Alamartine et al.
2020: Norway, Sweden, UK).
Further, during and after their PhDs, individuals vary in their goal-oriented career
activities (OMeara et al. 2014: US) and their response to happenstance (Kindsiko and
Baruch 2019: Estonia), sometimes seizing opportunities even if risky to choosing not
to do so. Thus, while PhDs may have few clear strategies for learning about non-tra-
ditional careers (Thiry, Laursen, and Loshbaugh 2015: US), PhD graduates develop
and draw on their family and personal networks in seeking non-traditional employment
(Purcell et al. 2005: UK; Germain-Alamartine et al. 2020), with such strategies contribut-
ing to the perceived quality of employment (Germain-Alamartine et al. 2020).
Work/career situated in broader life course: Personal life factors like family (Valcour
and Tolbert 2003: US), management of work-life balance (OMeara et al. 2014: US),
and need for nancial security (Scadi and Berman 2011: Australia) also inuence
work decisions and experiences. For instance, concerns about family upheavals may pre-
clude moving geographically, or nancial insecurity may lead to taking any job on oer
(McAlpine and Amundsen 2018). Alternately, lack of perceived job opportunities may
lead to mobility (Germain-Alamartine et al. 2020: UK PhDs only).
Opportunity structures and horizons for action: Notably, most PhDs and graduates
depend on anecdotal evidence for their knowledge of opportunity structures, and thus
have little sense of the actual labour market (McAlpine, Amundsen, and Turner 2014:
UK, Canada). This likely contributes to reported experiences of job mismatch and
under-employment (e.g., Heuritsch, Waaijer, and van der Weijden 2016: Netherlands).
Combined with horizons for action, such lack of knowledge can also inuence
whether individuals work part-time or full-time, are self-employed or unemployed,
and hold a single job or multiple jobs within or across sectors (hybrid careers). Lastly,
over time, PhD graduates outside the academic sector change jobs within and across
organizations and sectors with greater frequency than in the academic sector (Auriol,
Misu, and Freeman 2013: OECD) though why is not known.
Structural factors inuencing PhD careers: nested contexts
Macro: This context incorporates the economic climate generally, and its eect on career
trajectories. For instance, the 2007-8 global crisis had a dramatic negative cohort eect
(Boulos 2016: France). Further, such events can lead to organizational (meso) disruptions
(Wigglesworth 2019).
At the time of this study (201819), the global economy had generally recovered from
this collapse and the gig economy was growing (Hune-Brown 2018). Policies, both
national (e.g., nancial incentives to hire PhD graduates: Herrera and Nieto 2013) and
international (e.g., EU policies to encourage educational and job mobility), can be
used to inuence the highly skilled labour market. Such factors cumulatively aect the
rate of employment and job possibilities for highly skilled workers (Oyer 2006: US).
When PhD graduates seek employment, they may look in the private, public and para-
public (NGOs, charities) labour sectors as well as within higher education. Discipline
plays a role in hiring, with more social scientists in the public sector and more scientists
in the private (Auriol, Misu, and Freeman 2013; Barnacle et al. 2020: Australia). Further,
there are regional and national dierences in PhD labour mobility: a) central-peripheral
economic regions within a country (Garcia-Quevedo and colleagues 2012: Spain); and b)
national dierences, e.g., higher mobility in the UK than in Scandinavia (Germain-Ala-
martine et al. 2020).
In the non-academic sectors, we distinguish a) professionals, who do not do research,
and b) research professionals, whose major responsibility is research of some kind,
including programme evaluation. Over time, the jobs PhDs take progressively shift
from research professional to professional (Lee, Miozzo, and Laredo 2010: UK). In the
academy, a growing non-traditional PhD career path (Berman and Pitman 2010: Austra-
lia), that of academic professional,
entails research- and/or teaching-related responsibil-
ities, such as communications ocer or academic developer.
All three positions can lead
to permanence.
Meso: Organizational factors inuence the possibility that employers might seek PhDs.
For instance, previous hiring of PhDs has a positive cumulative eect (Garcia-Quevedo,
Mas-Verdu, and Polo-Otero 2012) and managers are willing to hire individuals whose
education exceeds job requirements (Kulkarni et al. 2105). Such employers value critical,
systematic and analytical thinking, ability to handle complex problems, and leadership
(de Grande et al. 2014; Diamond et al. 2014: UK). Work experience outside aca-
demia can also be a crucial criterion (Diamond et al. 2014). However, many organiz-
ations do not view PhDs as adding value beyond a Masters (Kyvik and Olsen 2012),
considering Masters graduates as more amenable to their needs (Cousten and Pignatel
2018: France), and therefore unwilling to invest resources to ensure PhDs remain
(Adams et al. 2008: Australia).
Micro: The individuals daily work experience also plays a role. Positive climate sus-
tains motivation; negative climate reduces investment and increases thoughts of
leaving (McAlpine and Amundsen 2018: UK & Canada). Academic professionals may
thus choose this employment since they enjoy the academic milieu (McAlpine and
Amundsen 2018), and use their PhD communication and research skills (Berman and
Pitman 2010), but feel unrecognized organizationally (Whitchurch 2009: UK).
In the non-academic arena, 90% viewed their PhDs as relevant to their work (Thune
et al. 2012: Norway). However, Heuritsch, Waaijer, and van der Weijden (2016) reported
35% did not work at the PhD level, contributing to reduced satisfaction (di Paolo and
Mañé 2016: Portugal) which suggests we lack information about other inuencing
factors. Kyvik and Olsen (2012) noted systematic and analytical thinkingand handling
complex problemsas important skills for all types of positions. Benito and Romera
(2013: Spain) reported an interaction between micro and meso contexts: general satisfac-
tion as regards intellectual challenge, independence, and responsibility, but less satisfac-
tion as to benets and career advancement.
The notion of identity-trajectory within nested contexts oers a framework for exam-
ining the interaction between the individual and the structural through time.
Looking at
them jointly is complementary (Elliott 2005) since both perspectives seek explanations of
behaviour, especially as regards intersection and inference rather than causality. Thus, we
decided to do an exploratory study of non-traditional PhD careers in the UK and Swit-
zerland to assess proof-of-concept of this framework in linking structural factors and
individual experiences conceptually and empirically.
We asked: How do national, organizational and day-to-day work contexts interact with
individualspost-PhD non-traditional career decisions?
We used a narrative approach (Elliott 2005; Riessman 2008): rst, understanding each
individuals unique career trajectory within his or her bio-historical time, contexts and
contingencies; and second, seeking underlying patterns across individuals.
Country contexts
Recognizing the macro-context of PhD careers, we collected data (late 2018-summer
2019) in two countries, the UK and Switzerland. These countries vary in geographic
space, population size and GDP, though with similar rates of unemployment for
By choosing the UK and Switzerland, we would see how dierent structural
factors as described below might interact with individual variation to create post-PhD
career trajectories.
The United Kingdom: The UK, encompassing four countries, has one de facto ocial
language, English. Pertinent to this study are 10 economic regions one in Scotland and
nine in England. In England, the regions of interest are three in the south and southeast
that are generally more economically robust than the north, and one in the northwest
that contains several large metropolitan areas. For instance, Manchester, a northern
city, is an innovative hub with relatively low unemployment (6.3% in 2017) but still con-
siderably higher than Oxford (3.1%), a university town in the south (Oce for National
Statistics 2020). In Oxford, many work in higher education and the public sector, and in
201718 unemployment (3.1%) was lower than the national average of 4.1 (Oxford City
Council 2019). Also in the south, London has more nancial start-ups than
San Francisco. In Cambridge, another southern university town, there are many
medical technology and pharmaceutical research companies (Editorial, Financial
Times 2019). Comparing the distribution of professional and other occupations in
London, 25% of all those employed are in professional occupations (Oce for National
Statistics 2020). In contrast, in Oxford, 39.4% are in professional roles; and in Manche-
ster, 19.7% (Oce for National Statistics 2020). The other region is Scotland; its capital,
Edinburgh, had an unemployment rate of 2.4% in 201920, with 55.7% of employees in
managerial, professional, and associate professional and technical occupations (Nomis
Ocial Labour Market Statistics 2020).
Switzerland: This country, one-sixth the size of the UK, has four ocial languages and
seven economic regions. In this study, we focused on two, the Lake Geneva region and
Espace Mittelland, which are largely French-speaking areas. The most dynamic Swiss
economic sectors are commerce, nance, and tourism followed by pharmaceutical
areas as well as mechanical engineering and metallurgy (The Federal Council 2019b,
2020). Swiss salaries are amongst the highest in the world (The Federal Council
2019a), which makes working there attractive. Overall, unemployment in Switzerland
is extremely low (2.6% in 2018) (SECO 2019), much lower than in the UK. This
overall low rate may be partly due to a shortage of skilled workers. However, in our
area of interest, there is an oversupply of skilled staa) particularly teaching and edu-
cational jobs, ranked 27/32 of job shortage categories; and b) more generally social
science, humanities and natural science jobs ranked at 17/32 (Adecco 2019). Notably,
the proportion of part-time workers in Switzerland is the second highest (35%) in
Europe with an increasing rate of people who maintain several jobs concurrently
(7.9%) (FSO 2019). Given the small size of the country and the excellent public transpor-
tation system, it is easily feasible to live in one town and work in another.
After ethics approval, we sought PhD graduates in non-traditional careers by: 1) posting
recruitment ads via LinkedIn and Twitter, 2) contacting prior research participants,
contacting members of our personal networks to spread the word, and 4) making snow-
ball sampling requests. All participants had a) completed PhDs in one of the countries,
whether or not still there; or b) completed their PhD elsewhere and now working in one
of the countries.. Data were collected from October 2018 to June 2019.
The 24 participants (12 from each country) constituted: 12 males and 12 females, 18
social scientists (SS) and 6 science, technology, engineering and math scientists
(STEM); 14 were in their home countries and 10 from elsewhere, 19 graduated from
2011 onwards and 19 were still in the country where they graduated. Roughly three-quar-
ters had started their present jobs within two years of data collection (See Table 1.)
Data collection
We collected data that integrated individual and structural factors reported to have an
impact on careers in two phases. First, we collected data from participants, focusing
on individual factors and those from the micro- and meso-contexts interviewees
would likely know. We used a short online survey prior to the interview (micro and
meso factors) to provide background: demographic information (gender, nationality,
current work location, etc.), and information regarding current work (job title, sector,
size of organization, etc.). The hour-long interview had ve parts: 1) reasons for pursuing
a PhD; 2) career preparation and decision-making, when each participant created a
career timeline; 3) job-seeking strategies and experiences; 4) current work and relevance
of the PhD; and 5) future career plans.
Table 1. Characteristic of participants.
Pseudo Gender Age PhD eld PhD country Year of graduation
of work
sector Role*
Size** Permanent or contract
Frances F 36
HSS UK 2008 UK Private Professional Unknown Permanent
Felicity F 36
HSS UK 2012 UK Para-public Professional Medium Contract
Alice F 31
HSS UK 2019 UK Private Professional Micro Permanent
Amanda F 41
HSS UK 2003 UK Para-public Professional Large Permanent
Jenny F 31
HSS UK 2015 US Public Research professional Large Permanent
Matt M 41
STEM UK 2002 UK Higher Education Academic professional Large Contract
Grant M 41045 HSS UK 2007 CA Private Professional Medium Permanent
Benjamin M 20
HSS UK 2017 UK Private Professional Medium Permanent
David M 31
STEM UK 2013 UK Private Professional Large Permanent
Susan F 35
HSS UK 2016 UK Higher Education Academic Professional Large Contract
Samuel M 31
STEM UK 2015 UK Higher Education Academic professional Large Permanent
Sandra F 31
STEM UK 2011 UK Higher Education Academic professional Large Permanent
Eve F 31
HSS Switzerland 2017 Switzerland Higher Education Academic professional Large Contract
James M 41
HSS Switzerland 2013 Switzerland Public Professional Small Permanent
Béatrice F 36
HSS Switzerland 2013 Switzerland Para-public Professional Large Permanent
Gwenaelle F 36
HSS Switzerland 2013 Switzerland Higher Ed Academic professional Large Permanent
Bastien M 36
STEM Switzerland 2012 Switzerland Hybrid: Private/
Higher Education
Academic professional
Micro Permanent
(Continued )
Table 1. Continued.
Pseudo Gender Age PhD eld PhD country Year of graduation
of work
sector Role*
Size** Permanent or contract
William M 36
HSS Switzerland 2014 Switzerland Hybrid: Para-public/
Higher Education
Large Permanent
Alexander M 31
HSS Switzerland 2017 Switzerland Public Professional Large Permanent
Alicia F 36
HSS Switzerland 2018 Switzerland Hybrid: Para-public/
Higher Education
Research professional
Large Permanent
Elizabeth F 26
HSS Switzerland 2017 Switzerland Hybrid: Para-public/
Higher Education
Academic professional
Large Permanent
Colin*** M 26
HSS Switzerland Thesis to be defended Abroad Private Professional Unknown Contract
Edward M 36
HSS Abroad 2010 Switzerland Higher Education Academic professional Unknown Permanent
Albert F 36
HSS Switzerland 2016 Switzerland Higher Education Academic professional Large Permanent
*For Swiss hybrid participants, the most stable or largest proportion of their work was used.
**Size: micro (less than 10), small (10-49), medium (50-249) and large (more than 250)
***Info refer to the position Colin was holding until a couple of weeks before the interview
After the interview, we asked for a copy of the participants job description (structural
factors: nature of work and whether PhD required). At this point, knowing the individuals
context, weengaged in a second data collection phase for each individual using online data-
bases (e.g., OECD, European Commission, UK Oce of National Statistics, Swiss Federal
Statistical Oce). We collected additional macro and meso factors: a) company type, size,
mission and labour sector; b) geographical/ regional location and highly skilled labour
demand; and c) historical time. These data, alongside responses from the online survey
and the participantsjob description, were used to characterize the participantsmeso
and macro contexts to identify factors such as the economic state in the region/city at
time of employment seeking, demand for highly skilled workers, and the extent to
which PhDs or PhD skills
were valued in employer job descriptions.
For each participant case, all data were imported into the qualitative software MaxQDA.
We then analyzed as follows:
1. We created low inference case summaries integrating individual and structural factors
in English, our lingua franca, for each participant for use in the remaining analysis
(done by the interviewers: Author 2 the Swiss cases and Author 3 the UK ones,
with Author 1 verifying both the English and Swiss summaries.)
2. Individual case analysis:
a) Focusing on the UK data, we selected two cases with variation related to bio-his-
torical, individual and structural factors to use as starting points for our analysis.
b) We individually reviewed the two cases, returning as needed to the data, to gen-
erate individual themes related to the intersection between structural and indi-
vidual factors.
c) We discussed the emerging themes to create a collective understanding.
d) We continued with the individual case analysis with the rst author verifying the
3. Cross-case analysis:
a) The rst author read across the 24 case summaries to seek emerging patterns of
intersection between the individual and the nested structural contexts looking
for both similarities and dierences.
b) As potential patterns emerged, the team returned to the data to verify and/or
rene the pattern.
c) Once the patterns became rmer, we discussed them as a team to agree on the
nal representation of patterns.
We begin with three individual case summaries to highlight the distinctiveness of the
individual career paths in which dierent bio-historic individual and structural contexts
intersected. This is followed by the cross-case analysis of patterns of similarity and
Case examples: individual variation
Grant is a professional, Jenny, a research professional, and Bastien,
has a hybrid of pro-
fessional and academic professional jobs. Their cameos demonstrate that while the same
themes emerge in their trajectories, they are enacted dierently as each individual nego-
tiated particular horizons for action within perceived opportunity structures (as well as
other unknown ones): a) meso/micro factors during the PhD on job intentions
(Neumann and Tan 2011; Kyvik and Olsen 2012); b) mobility choices (Germain-Alamar-
tine et al. 2020); c) institutional interest in hiring PhDs (Kulkarni, Lengnick-Hall, and
Martinez 2015; Garcia-Quevedo, Mas-Verdu, and Polo-Otero 2012); and d) career trajec-
tory shifts through time (Lee, Miozzo, and Laredo 2010; McAlpine and Amundsen 2018).
JENNY; not UK citizen, PhD there; research professional, North America, public
Jenny is between 31-35 years old and married with 3 children. She completed her
humanities PhD in 2015. After her Masters, done in the UK, she wanted to work in
health policy overseas and did so for several years in a global public sector organization.
She then decided to do a PhD to pursue her research interests, travel (live in the Global
South for eldwork), and settlewith her partner who had chosen to do a PhD at the
same university. During the PhD, she considered an academic career, but during her
eldwork, realized her CV was viewed as too policyfocused and that she lacked the
teaching experience necessary for an academic career. Instead, while nishing her doc-
torate, Jenny started part-time as a consultant in a research-based consultancy, which
she learned about through a professor (See Figure 1.)
Once graduated, Jenny continued part-time in as a consultant while having children
and moving to North America due to her partners work. Once settled there, she found
(though cold-calling) and took her present full-time job as a Researcher in a government
agency, starting in 2018. While a PhD was not required for the position, it was desirable,
Figure 1. Jennys career timeline.
and is recognized in her salary grade. Research, 6070% of her job, includes basic
research, project development and management and programme evaluation. She nds
her PhD skills useful, particularly critical thinking, but lacked knowledge of how
nance and development work as well as how agencies interact fortunately, she devel-
oped this knowledge in her part-time job. She is happy to be in a stable job with a good
work-life balance, but is concerned about how the national political situation is aecting
her work and research, and is awaiting the next election. In the long term, she hopes to
again to go overseas with the family and work in the global health public sector.
BASTIEN; Swiss citizen, PhD there; hybrid career: a) a professional in private start-up
begun during PhD; b) since graduation, also academic professional in university.
Bastien is between 36-40 years old and married with one child. He completed his
STEM PhD in 2012. He did a PhD primarily to develop personal projects from
scratch, attracted by the freedom to pursue his own research interests. Bastien had no
specic career intention when starting his PhD. However, around the third year, he rea-
lized he did not like the academic culture, and decided to create a start-up related to his
PhD with a colleague. After three funding turns,the company is owned partly by share-
holders with six employees, and clients in private and academic labs in dierent
countries. As CEO, Bastien promotes the product, hires and manages sta, and commu-
nicates with clients. While the start-up draws on Bastiens PhD, he had to develop entre-
preneurial competencies.
In 2013, immediately after graduating, Bastien was approached and oered an aca-
demic professional position in his PhD university: manager of a lab dealing with
medical-legal mandates. In this position, a PhD was required for legitimacy, but not
research, since he veries and approves the reports of lab technicians for legal purposes.
Bastien enjoys the job, given the positive work environment and the fact he is using com-
petencies developed during his PhD, for example, project management, problem solving,
teamwork and critical thinking. He started at 70%, but since 2016 he has worked at 50%
to spend more time growing his start-up. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2. Bastiens career timeline.
Bastien wants to keep both jobs since they are complementary: the start-up brings
challenges and high stimulation whereas his position at the hospital brings stability
and more predictable workdays. The real challenge is balancing the two, since the jobs
are in dierent cities, and more recently, with the birth of his child he wants to spend
more time with his family.
GRANT; not UK citizen, PhD there; professional, North America, private sector.
Grant, between 41-45 years old, is married with two children and lives in a large cos-
mopolitan city in North America. He completed his SS PhD in 2007. While earlier inter-
ested in an academic job, after getting married during the PhD to another PhD student,
he realized the unlikelihood of nding two co-located academic posts. Thus, when his
partner secured a postdoc contract in North America, they moved there. In North
America, Grant worked in various research professional positions in provincial govern-
ments, and as an academic professional. He found work by browsing online job boards
and contacting his network or potential organizations about possible positions. Two
years later, Grants partner acquired a UK postdoc contract, so they again relocated.
There he spent eight months as a research professional with a government ombudsman
before actively searching, and then cold-calling dierent organizations through which he
found a professional post in 2012 at his present rm, an international executive place-
ment rm. The rm had just begun hiring PhDs but did not require a doctorate for
employment. In 2014, he submitted a business plan to establish and lead a North Amer-
ican expansion, given a) the organizations openness to global outreach; b) his partners
expiring contract; c) a two-hour plus commute each day; and d) limited nancial and
career progression if he sought work where he lived. Thus, he and his family returned
to North America where his wife found academic work. (See Figure 3.)
As managing partner at the expansion, Grant does administration and development
work. He collaborates with another regional team on projects and builds the business
Figure 3. Grants career timeline.
by establishing relationships in values-based organizations. He enjoys the work despite
the travel that takes him away from family. His PhD eld is not linked to his work,
but several skills are useful, including interviewing and the ability to work with people
from dierent sectors. A key skill he lacked and needed to learn was nancial manage-
ment. If Grant were to leave his job, he would return to a university, either in a
tenure-track position since he has continued to be fascinated by his eld, or as a
higher-level academic professional.
Cross-case patterns
Three major patterns of interaction emerged from the cross-case analysis: a) macro and
individual factors; b) macro, meso and individual factors; and c) meso, micro and indi-
vidual factors.
Macro and individual factors
Biographical time and multi-sector work experience: Eighteen participants (75%) had
worked in non-academic posts before graduating, which would have expanded their
knowledge of opportunity structures. Earlier experiences in dierent roles and sectors
can inuence a willingness to return to such positions (Kyvik and Olsen 2012). For
instance, Alexander (Switzerland) returned to the sector where he had worked before
the PhD, and Jenny and Brenda (UK) started work during the degree that they continued.
Location, job opportunities and mobility: The 24 participants found jobs in cities or
university towns, locations with low unemployment and potential for highly skilled
jobs, supporting Garcia-Quevedo, Mas-Verdu, and Polo-Oteros(2012)ndings.
However, the 12 UK participants were more mobile, corroborating Germain-Alamartine
et al. (2020). Of the 12 participants, two were located in North American cities, eight were
in southern UK (in two university towns and three large cities), and two were in northern
UK in large cities. In contrast, all but two of the Swiss group (Colin and Albert in France)
lived in towns in the small French-speaking area of Switzerland, with one of these unem-
ployed. Those in towns knew as Susan (UK) said: I cant just be very focused on a par-
ticular kind of role but need to search more broadly.What is not discussed in the
literature and is highlighted in the Swiss pattern (and Bastiens cameo) is that mobility
can be daily or weekly when individuals a) hold jobs in dierent cities from where
they live, or b) have hybrid careers and need to travel to one and/or both.
Historical time, disruptive events, and individual work experience: Disruptive political
events occurred during this study: in the UK (Brexit) and in North America (political
dissension). Four of the 12 UK group, working in dierent sectors, referred to the
impact of such disruption on their work. Amanda had diculties advancing her work
given organizations were hesitant to run new programsgiven the uncertainty of the pol-
itical situation; Jim was having to plan for organizational Brexit upsets on top of other
regular contingencies, and Felicity felt the uncertainty created by multiple international
political environments.In North America, Jenny reported uncertainty about future work
created by upset in the organizations funding due to national political priorities.No
such comments emerged in Switzerland, perhaps due to the decentralized political
system based on a principle of direct democracy and lack of disruptive political issues
at the time of the study. Wigglesworth (2019) has noted organizational responses to dis-
ruptions, but not ramications on employee experience.
The rst two sub-themes in this pattern (biographical time and multi-sector work
experience; location, job opportunities and mobility) highlight how factors likely not
within individualsawareness can inuence individual opportunity structures and hor-
izons for action. The third (historical time, disruptive events, and individual work experi-
ence) demonstrates how a macro factor can lter down to individual work experience
and create uncertainty. Further, while the rst sub-theme showed similarity in individual
prior experience of non-academic work, the last two highlight structural dierences.
Macro, meso and individual factors
Sectors, regions, roles, and horizons for action: In the UK group, ve worked in the private
sector, four in higher education, two in the public sector and one in a public private part-
nership. (See Table 1.) All worked full-time, with 11 permanent. The seven professionals
were mostly in the private sector; the four academic professionals all in large universities;
and the one research professional in a large public organization.
Of the 12 UK participants, seven held professional positions, ve of which were in
private sector rms of dierent sizes. Specically, Benjamin and Grant were in
medium-sized international companies, David in a large tech company, Alice in a
micro-tech company, and Sandra in a company of unknown size in Scotland. The
remaining two professionals were in international para-public institutions: Felicity was
in a medium-sized university association, and Amanda at a large international organiz-
ation. This broad distribution demonstrates that PhDs can be found across all sectors and
dierent organizational sizes. Grant represents the range of UK experiences: having
worked in many sectors, in one job-at-a-time. Unlike the Swiss group, none were in
hybrid careers, self-employed or reported periods of unemployment.
Of the Swiss group, ten were in permanent positions. Six worked part-time
Four were (partially) self-employed (Elizabeth, Alicia, Edward, Bastien)
and four were in hybrid posts (three of the four self-employed) evidence of the
growth of contract work in Europe (OConnor 2019) alongside the growing gig
economy (Hune-Brown 2018). Unlike the UK group, all but one worked only in the
public, para-public or higher education sectors, likely due to the predominance of
these sectors in the region (and possibly since 11 were social scientists). Eight were pro-
fessionals: one worked in the private sector (company unknown) and another part-time
(micro-organization), with two in large public organizations and four in large para-
public organizations. Six were academic professionals in large institutions. One was a
research professional. Bastien represents the Swiss pattern quite well, e.g., being perma-
nent in his university post, partially self-employed with hybridity making him full-time
a situation which took time to develop. Similarly, Gwenaelle, a part-time lecturer when
graduating, looked for a part-time academic professional position to remain in higher
education. Unlike the UK group, three had experienced unemployment with one
unemployed when interviewed.
In common across the UK and Swiss groups was the prevalence of academic pro-
fessionals. This suggests an interaction between individual and structural factors: the
former, sustaining access to desirable environment (McAlpine and Amundsen 2018)
and, the latter, a macro shift globally to a more distributed model of higher education
employment (Berman and Pitman 2010).
Another clear interaction between individual and macro factors was evident in the
Swiss group; choices to be mobile or to reduce hours to prioritize children, were
made within macro regional/national factors. These factors included: 1) an oversup-
ply of highly skilled workers in their region (Adecco 2019);2)theprevalenceofpart-
time work in Switzerland leading to hybrid careers (FSO 2019); and 3) high Swiss
salaries (The Federal Council 2019b), perhaps making work in other countries less
Role, organizational need for PhD and employee assessment of need: Similarities
between countries also occurred regarding nature of work and job descriptions requiring
a PhD. Only four participants (Bastien, Samuel, Albert: Switzerland, and Jeremy: UK),
reported that their job descriptions called for a PhD. None was a research professional;
they felt that, above all, the degree provided legitimacy for their jobs. Only one (Jenny),
whose job requirement was for a Masters (with a PhD preferred) worked as a research
professional most of her colleagues also held PhDs. This supports the structural meso
evidence that employers do not always perceive the value or need for a PhD (Kyvik and
Olsen 2012), but also that organizations are willing to hire PhDs (Kulkarni, Lengnick-
Hall, and Martinez 2015), especially when they have done so previously (Garcia-
Quevedo, Mas-Verdu, and Polo-Otero 2012).
Still, the PhD was seen by the participants as subjectively useful: I couldnt do [the
job] the way I do without the PhD(Grant). Eleven, mostly Swiss, felt they worked to
their full potential and half, mostly UK, reported the PhD an asset, consistent with
Benito and Romera (2013) and Sinche et al. (2017). While recognizing their PhD learning
in their work (e.g., critical thinking), they also noted skills and expertise they were
lacking, (e.g., nancial management, non-academic writing, commercial awareness,
HR management). This characterization of the value and gaps in the PhD across roles
and countries arms earlier reports (Kyvik and Olsen 2012: Norway), and suggests a
decade of skills trainingmay not have prepared PhDs for non-traditional PhD careers.
Labour market strategies and agency (opportunity structures and job-searching strat-
egies):Hereweseedierences between the UK and Swiss groups in developing knowl-
edge of and access to the labour market. All UK participants used a range of
strategies. All actively researched jobs: checking advertisements, listservs and organiz-
ational websites. Most also used personal networks to extend their search strategies,
depending on others to keep them in-the-know though also recognizing the
inuence of chance (Kindsiko and Baruch 2019). Two-thirds employed cold-calling,
phone and email (recall Grant and Jenny). The reason appears structural as most pos-
itions are not advertised, particularly small companies(David). One-quarter con-
tacted potential organizations to gain more information. Individuals also carefully
crafted what Benjamin called bespoke CVs.Note Alicesstory:I had no idea what
opportunities were outside academia So I went to a nance career and a tech
career fair [I liked tech] Irealized I needed to meet more [tech] people [so]
started my own Meetup group to get known thatshowIgotmyjob.These
accounts represent more strategic intentionality in job seeking than previously
reported (Purcell et al. (2005)perhaps due to the more challenging job market
now than in 2005.
Alongside individual career agentiveness (OMeara et al. 2014), we also found organ-
izational employee-vetting strategies. Two in the UK group were contacted by headhun-
ters who had seen their proles online. This demonstrates another intersection between
individual agency maintaining a virtual presence and organizational strategies. Still,
having been contacted did not lead to a job without persistence. In Francess case, no job
emerged at the time, but the headhunter suggested a possibility in a years time. A year
later, Frances followed up and secured a postion. Only one in the UK group (Alice) was
approached and oered a job (through her Meetup group), so did not have a formal
Individuals in Switzerland acted quite dierently. In fact, most, including those who
struggled to nd a job, tended to be less strategic largely depending on their informal
networks (as in Purcell et al. 2005)likely due to interaction between structural and indi-
viduals factors. For instance, none cold-called as it is culturally inappropriate (Switzer-
land is yours 2013) and only eight searched online. Interestingly, ve were oered
their current positions. As they were looking locally, they likely had well-established net-
works to aid in this regard (Germain-Alamartine et al. 2020).
Time, horizons for action, and job change: We looked to the 8 participants who gradu-
ated by 2012 to understand the intersection of career trajectory and time since gradu-
ation. Six rst took jobs in higher education that involved research in some fashion,
but all eight moved away from research over time. This often involved leaving academia
though it did not preclude returning at some point, e.g., Sandra from the private sector.
Further, at only one point was one, Grant, doing research in the public sector. This
highlights how time is essential for understanding careers: frequent job and sector move-
ment (Auriol, Misu, and Freeman 2013) and the shift to professional posts over time
(Lee, Miozzo, and Laredo 2010).
Overall, this cross-case pattern with its dierent sub-themes echoes the rst cross-case
pattern (macro and individual factors) in that, at a meta-level, there are both similarities
between countries suggesting more macro global inuences, and macro country dier-
ences suggesting national policies, and societal practices with both conditions interact-
ing with individual factors such as agentiveness, work-life balance, and job satisfaction.
Meso, micro and individual factors
Horizons for action, workplace climate and desire for change: The majority, like Jenny,
Grant and Bastien, were happy with their micro and meso work environments, their
responsibilities and their interaction with their colleagues. Their jobs were satisfyingly
demanding and potential stepping-stones to future work.
However, two Swiss participants, William and Alicia, were especially not satised with
one of their hybrid positions, experiencing stress, and lack of recognition of their exper-
tise. Feeling under-employed (Heuritsch, Waaijer, and van der Weijden 2016), they
wished to leave, but this desire came up against structural concerns. Each was
unhappy in the stable public or para-public job forming their major income, with the
smaller part from contract higher education posts. Alicia hesitated to look elsewhere
since she needed the nancial security, given limited mobility and pregnancy. William,
hoping for an academic post, realized he needed to build his academic CV before he
could be competitive given his limited mobility. These examples suggest in hybrid
careers individuals may weigh the relative merits of two sets of meso organizational
factors against their personal needs and desires and settle for less work satisfaction in
order to ensure nancial security. These results support previous critiques of research
on job satisfaction, that it needs to be linked to organizational sector and mission
(Herrera and Nieto 2016), actual work (Barnacle et al. 2020), and life circumstances
(McAlpine and Amundsen 2018) in order to be meaningful.
We conducted an exploratory study of non-traditional PhD careers in the UK and Swit-
zerland in which we conceptually and empirically linked structural factors to individual
intentions and experiences. We did so using identity-trajectory within nested contexts
as a framework.
There were limitations in the design. The choice of countries was somewhat opportu-
nistic and we did not use purposive sampling given our intent to capture a range of jobs
across labour sectors as this was a proof-of-concept exercise. This meant we could not
seek employer perspectives to capture meso perspectives. Regardless, the cross-case
analysis demonstrated consistent patterns (Guest, Bunce, and Johnson 2006) which
proved a good assessment of the proof-of-concept of the framework. The studys orig-
inality lies in the narrative cross-case approach that merged empirical evidence from
interviews with secondary data. The resulting patterns of dierent types provide a
more robust, yet nuanced, representation of the complexity of the intersection of individ-
ual and structural factors.
The dierences between the two countries highlighted distinct career structures rep-
resented in dierent macro national/societal policies and practices. The similarities
across countries suggest similar macro European and global structures also play a
role. These two contexts interact with each other and intersect with individuals in
bio-historical time. In other words, the evidence was clear that post-PhD lives and
career trajectories intersected with nested contexts structural factors not just in the
present but during the PhD, very early on inuencing opportunity structures and hor-
izons for action.
We tracked variation in individual career experience in relation to the nested contexts
to examine the interactions. The results highlighted the complexity of these interactions
and thus the challenge of research design. Fortunately, the framework provided a sensi-
tizing scaold in the design of the data collection tools and in the analysis of data.
However, the desk research for specic meso and macro factors was often dicult
which may help explain why such studies have rarely been reported.
Further, as noted earlier, there were limitations that call for caution in interpreting the
patterns of similarity and dierence. These limitations could be taken up in the design of
future studies. Further, though we incorporated factors reported in the literature, we did
not examine all of them, particularly the intersection of national policies with insti-
tutional mission, and hiring policies. So for future research, we suggest:
.Studies of regions in dierent countries that share common regional labour markets in
order to examine the intersection of macro factors (global and national policies and
trends) on organizational structures as regards dierences in PhD hiring
.Bounded organizational case studies sampling both employeesand employersper-
spectives about the nature and value of PhD skills to examine the interaction of indi-
vidual and meso/micro structural factors in one specic context
.Organizational cases across sectors, chosen purposively to compare ones that hire
PhDs intentionally, those that hire them perchance, and those that do not hire
them at all in order to understand organizational inuence on decisions to hire PhDs
We hope others will see the value of examining the interaction between individual and
structural factors in examining post-PhD non-traditional careers as well as the value
of using an integrative empirically derived framework.
1. We use this term to dierentiate it from the traditional PhD career expectation of an aca-
demic doing teaching and research (increasingly preceded by research-only or teaching-
only contracts). While most non-traditional careers are outside academia, a growing
number exist in academia, e.g., researcher developer, communications ocer.
2. Country location included to show range of countries mostly European.
3. There is next to no research on this role.
4. We excluded teachers and researchers, since these are traditional roles.
5. Studies use dierent lists of skills; those reported here are representative.
6. See McAlpine, Castello, and Pyhältö (2020) for an analysis of the inuence of these contexts
pre- and during the PhD on post-PhD possibilities.
7. 3% in the UK (Vitae 2020) and 2% in Switzerland (FSO 2018).
8. This study was part of a larger research program on early career researchers, and during data
collection we had asked if they would be willing to be contacted again.
9. These included research, communication, and analytical skills.
10. All participants chose or were given pseudonyms.
11. More than 90% is considered full time.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by a European Erasmus plus Programme under the project Researcher
Identity Development: Strengthening Science in Society Strategies[grant number 2017-1-ES01-
Notes on contributors
Lynn McAlpine is Professor Emerita at the University of Oxford, UK and McGill University,
Canada. She is internationally recognized for her research conducted in Canada, the UK and
Europe which examines how doctoral students and post-PhD researchers engage in and learn
to do research further, how they navigate their career trajectories both in and outside the
academy. She receives frequent international invitations to do workshops and keynotes that
explore the implications of the research both from pedagogical and policy perspectives.
Dr Isabelle Skakni is a Research Associate at the Lancaster University Department of Educational
Research and the Head of the Doctoral Training Oce at the University of Applied Sciences and
Arts, Western Switzerland. Her research focuses on early career researcherstraining and pro-
fessional identity development as well as PhD holderscareer trajectories and experiences in
non-academic workplaces.
Kelsey Inouye is currently completing her doctorate at the Department of Education, University of
Oxford, and works as a Research Associate at Lancaster University. Her work focuses on doctoral
writing, agency, and early career researcher development.
L. McAlpine
I. Skakni
K. Inouye
Adams, Karen, Gerald Mullins, and Anthony Zander. 2008.Postgraduate Research Education
and the Engineering Workplace: EmployersPerspectives.Paper presented at the Quality in
Postgraduate Research: Research Education in the New Global Environment, Adelaide, April
Adecco. 2019.Swiss Skills Shortage Index 2019. Zurich: Adecco Group Switzerland.
Auriol, Laudeline, Max Misu, and Rebecca Freeman. 2013.Careers of doctorate holders: Analysis of
labour market and mobility indicators. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working
Papers, 2013/04. OECD Publishing.
Barnacle, R., D. Cuthbert, C. Schmidt, and C. Batty. 2020.HASS PhD Graduate Careers and
Knowledge Transfer: A Conduit for Enduring, Multisector Networks.Arts and Humanities
in Higher Education 19 (4): 397418.
Benito, Monica, and Rosario Romera. 2013.How to Boost the PhD Labour Market? Facts From
the PhD System Side.Statistics and Econometric Series 024, Working Paper 13-28. Madrid:
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
Berman, Judith, and Tim Pitman. 2010.Occupying a Third Space: Research Trained
Professional Stain Australian Universities.Higher Education 60: 157169. doi:10.1007/
Boulos, A. 2016.The Labour Market Relevance of PhDs: An Issue for Academic Research and
Policy-makers.Studies in Higher Education 41 (5): 901913.
Cousten, Alexandra, and Isabelle Pignatel. 2018.PhDs in business: Nonsense, or opportunity for
both?Global Business and Organizational Excellence 37 (2): 4958.
de Grande, Hannelore, Katrien de Boyser, Karen Vandevelde, and Ronan van Rossem. 2014.
From Academia to Industry: Are Doctorate Holders Ready?Journal of the Knowledge
Economy 5: 538561.
Diamond, Abigail, Charlie Ball, Tim Vorley, Tristram Hughes, Rachel Moreton, Peter Howe, and
Tej Nathwani. 2014.The Impact of Doctoral Careers. Leicester: CFE Research.
di Paolo, Antonio, and Ferran Mañé. 2016.Misusing Our Talent? Overeducation, Overskilling
and Skill Underutilisation Among Spanish PhD Graduates.The Economic and Labour
Relations Review 27 (4): 432452. doi:10.1177/1035304616657479.
Elliott, Jane. 2005.Using Narrative in Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches.
London, UK: Sage.
The Federal Council. 2019a.Swiss Economy Overview. Accessed August 2019. https://www.eda.
The Federal Council. 2019b.Economic sectors. Accessed March 2020.
The Federal Council. 2020.Swiss Economy Facts and Figures.Accessed March 2020. https://
FSO (Federal Statistical Oce). 2018.Facilitateurs et entraves à la carrière académique des doc-
teurs diplômés en 2012.Swiss statistics. Federal Department of Home Aairs. Accessed March
FSO (Federal Statistical Oce). 2019.Labour market indicators 2019.Swiss statistics. Federal
Department of Home Aairs. Accessed 1 September 2019.
Garcia-Quevedo, Jose, Francisco Mas-Verdu, and Jose Polo-Otero. 2012.“” Which Firms Want
PhDs? An Analysis of the Determinants of the Demand..Higher Education 63: 607620.
doi:0. 1 007/s 1 0734-0 11 -946 1 -8.
Germain-Alamartine, Eloïse, Rhoda Ahoba-Sam, Saeed Moghadam-Saman, and Gerwin Evers.
2020.Doctoral GraduatesTransition to Industry: Networks as a Mechanism? Cases from
Norway, Sweden and the UK.Studies in Higher Education.doi:10.1080/03075079.2020.
Guest, Greg, Arwen Bunce, and Laura Johnson. 2006.How Many Interviews Are Enough? An
Experiment with Data Saturation and Variability.Field Methods 18: 5982. doi:10.1177/
Herrera, Liliana, and Mariano Nieto. 2013.Recruitment of PhD researchers by rms.Paper pre-
sented at the 35th DRUID Celebration Conference, Barcelona, June 1719.
Herrera, L., and M. Nieto. 2016.PhD Careers in Spanish Industry: Job Determinants in
Manufacturing Versus Non-manufacturing Firms.Technological Forecasting & Social
Change 113: 341351.
Heuritsch, Julia, Cathelijn Waaijer, and Inge van der Weijden. 2016.Survey on the Labour Market
Position of PhD Graduates: Competence comparison and relation between PhD and current
employment.Paper presented at the 21st International Conference on Science and
Technology Indicators, València, September 1416.
Hune-Brown, N. 2018.Business or pleasure?The Walrus,1920.
Jiang, Zhou, Alexander Newman, Huong Le, Alfred Presbitero, and Connie Zheng. 2019.Career
Exploration: A Review and Future Research Agenda.Journal of Vocational Behavior 110: 338
356. doi:0.1016/j.jvb.2018.08.008.
Kindsiko, Eneli, and Yehuda Baruch. 2019.Careers of PhD Graduates: The Role of Chance Events
and How to Manage Them.Journal of Vocational Behavior 112: 122140. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.
Kulkarni, Mukta, Mark Lengnick-Hall, and Patricia G. Martinez. 2015.Overqualication, mis-
matched qualication, and hiring decisions: Perceptions of employers.Personnel Review 44
(4): 529549.
Kyvik, Svein, and Terje Bruen Olsen. 2012.The Relevance of Doctoral Training in Dierent
Labour Markets.Journal of Education and Work 25 (2): 205224. doi:10.1080/13639080.
Lee, Hsing-fen, Marcela Miozzo, and Philippe Laredo. 2010.Career Patterns and Competences
of PhDs in Science and Engineering in the Knowledge Economy: The Case of Graduates
from a UK Research-Based University.Research Policy 39: 869881. doi:10.1016/j.respol.
Levinson, Daniel. 1986.A Conception of Adult Development.American Psychologist 41 (1): 3
13. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.41.1.3.
McAlpine, L., and C. Amundsen. 2018.Identity-trajectories: Ways of understanding post-PhD
career choices. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
McAlpine, L., C. Amundsen, and G. Turner. 2014.Identity-trajectory: Reframing early career aca-
demic experience.British Educational Research Journal 40 (6): 952969.
McAlpine, L., M. Castello, and K. Pyhältö. 2020.What inuences PhD graduate trajectories
during the degree: A research-based policy agenda.Higher Education.doi.10.1007/s10734-
McAlpine, L., and J. Norton. 2006.Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: A learning per-
spective.Higher Education Research and Development 25 (1): 317.
Neumann, Ruth, and Kim Khim Tan. 2011.From PhD to Initial Employment: The Doctorate in a
Knowledge Economy.Studies in Higher Education 36 (5): 601614. doi:10.1080/03075079.
Nomis Ocial Labour Market Statistics. 2020.Labour Market Prole City of Edinburgh. Accessed
August 5, 2020.
OConnor, D. 2019.Growth is Starting to Light the Economys Hidden Corners.Financial
Times, June 12.
Oce for National Statistics. 2020.Labor Market Statistics.Accessed April 27, 2020. https://
OMeara, Kerry Ann, Audrey Jaeger, Jennifer Eliason, Ashley Grantham, Kelly Cowdery,
Allison Mitchall, and Kate Zhang. 2014.By Design: How Departments Inuence
Graduate Student Agency in Career Advancement.International Journal of Doctoral Studies
9: 155179.
Oxford City Council. 2019.Economic Statistics.Accessed August 27, 2019. https://www.oxford.
Oyer, Paul. 2006.Initial Labour Market Conditions and Long-Term Outcomes for Economists.
The Journal of Economic Perspectives 20 (3): 143160. doi:10.1257/jep.20.3.143.
Pedersen, Heidi Skovgaard. 2014.New Doctoral Graduates in the Knowledge Economy: Trends
and Key Issues.Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 36 (6): 632645. doi:10.
Purcell, Kate, Sue Durbin, Stella Warren, Peter Elias, Heike Behle, and Rhys Davies. 2005.The
Employment of Social Science PhDs in Academic and Non-Academic Jobs: Research Skills and
Postgraduate Training. London, UK: ESRC Training and Development Board.
Riessman, Catherine. 2008.Narrative methods for the human sciences. Los Angeles: Sage.
Scadi, A., and J. Berman. 2011.A Positive Postdoctoral Experience is Related to Quality
Supervision and Career Mentoring, Collaborations, Networking and a Nurturing Research
Environment.Higher Education 62: 685698.
SECO. 2019.La situation du marché du travail en décembre 2018. Berne, Suisse: Secrétariat dEtat à
léconomie SECO.
Sinche, M., R. L. Layton, P. D. Brandt, A. B. OConnell, J. D. Hall, A. M. Freeman, J. R. Harrell, J. G.
Cook, and P. J. Brennwald. 2017.An Evidence-Based Evaluation of Transferrable Skills and Job
Satisfaction for Science PhDs.PLoS ONE 12 (9): e0185023.
Switzerland is yours. 2013. Accessed August 31, 2019.
Thiry, Heather, Sandra Laursen, and Heidi Loshbaugh. 2015.“‘How do I get from here to there?
An examination of PhD science studentscareer preparation and decision making.
International Journal of Doctoral Studies 10: 237256.
Thune, Taran, Svein Kyvik, Sverker Sorlin, Terje Bruen Olsen, Agnete Vabo, and Catherine
Tomte. 2012.PhD Education in a Knowledge Society: An Evaluation of PhD Education in
Norway. Oslo: Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education.
Valcour, Monique, and Pamela Tolbert. 2003.Gender, Family and Career in the Era of
Boundarylessness: Determinants and Eects of Intra- and Inter-organizational Mobility.
Journal of Human Resource Management 14 (5): 768787. doi:10.1080/0958519032000080794.
Vitae. 2020.Employment Levels for UK Doctoral Graduates.Accessed May 4, 2020. https://
Whitchurch, Celia. 2009.The Rise of the Blended Professionalin Higher Education: A
Comparison Between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.Higher
Education 58 (3): 407418.
Wigglesworth, Robin. 2019.Political Volatility Leaves Investors in a Bind.Financial Times, May 11.
... The main career goal of early-career doctoral researchers has traditionally been to pursue an independent research career in academia [21], but today careers are more diversified [22]. The journey from doctoral student to doctoral researcher and the career that is subsequently built is composed of several factors that transcend both micro and macro levels [23,24]. Higher education policy conditions and competition cannot be controlled by individual influence, but academics must adapt and make personal choices. ...
... Doctoral students, supervisors, inclusive spaces, and dialogues are not separated, as also Cumming [30] argued more than a decade ago. Only a few studies examine the intersection of individual and structural factors that influence career pathways [23,15]. As competition intensifies, there are numerous options and flexibilities available, but despite these, the prospects of doctoral students are uncertain [31,14]. ...
... The diversity of doctoral students is recognized at a general level, yet doctoral programs lack structures that reflect the diversity of overlapping personal, academic, and professional identities [32]. McAlpine, Skakni and Inouye [23] suggest more hybrid career models that allow individuals to combine different aspirations. ...
Aims: Universities and their doctoral programs open a range of career opportunities for doctoral students and doctors. There is a need to problematize assumptions related to the construction of doctoral careers. This study addresses this need by examining the development of doctoral career paths and the factors influencing them from a qualitative longitudinal perspective. This study focuses on the narrative career stories of doctoral students and doctoral graduates from a temporal perspective and at the individual level. Study Design: The study was conducted as qualitative longitudinal research among Finnish doctoral students and later same persons as doctoral holders (N=9). The aim of the research design was to find out what kind of career paths can be constructed. Place and Duration of Study: The research data was collected in Finland between 2009-2018 and analyzed in 2022-2023. Methodology: This study focuses on the narrative career stories of doctoral students and doctoral graduates from a temporal perspective and at the individual level. For this study, nine doctoral students were interviewed in 2009 and again in 2018, covering the themes of doctoral studies and careers. The data was analyzed using content analysis and a narrative approach. Results: As a result, four narrative doctoral career stories were constructed: Competitive Academic Career, Permanent Lecturer Career, External Proletarian Career and Self-selected Balanced Career. The results suggest that starting points, personal positioning in the doctoral process and structured career opportunities have a significant impact on the dimensions, skills and, ultimately, career prospects of doctoral candidates. This study makes visible the factors involved in the construction of a doctoral career from a holistic and longer-term perspective, allowing for a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the complexity of doctoral careers.
... This generation of researchers will not only have to learn how to communicate their research; they will also need professional competencies to communicate with other professionals, disseminate their findings and convince funders. This wide range of communication competencies are necessary in the context of increasing diversity of genres and voices on multinational teams and in global settings (McAlpine et al., 2020;McAlpine et al., 2021;McAlpine & Castelló, in press). ...
... This generation of researchers will not only have to learn how to communicate their research; they will also need professional competencies to communicate with other professionals, disseminate their findings and convince funders. This wide range of communication competencies are necessary in the context of increasing diversity of genres and voices on multinational teams and in global settings (McAlpine et al., 2020;McAlpine et al., 2021;McAlpine & Castelló, in press). ...
Full-text available
Writing As a Human Activity offers a collection of original essays that attempt to account for Charles Bazerman’s shaping influence on the field of writing studies. Through scholarly engagement with his ideas, the 16 chapters—written by authors from Asia, Europe, North America, and South America—address Bazerman’s foundational scholarship on academic and scientific writing, genre theory, activity theory, writing research, writing across the curriculum, writing pedagogy, the sociology of knowledge, new media and technology, and international aspects of writing. Collectively, the authors use Bazerman’s work as a touchstone to consider contemporary contexts of writing as a human activity.
... À cet égard, Golde (2005) souligne qu'une meilleure préparation au doctorat pourrait contribuer à réduire le sentiment d'incertitude. Il propose notamment que les étudiants de niveau master réalisent des stages de recherche rémunérés au sein des laboratoires, dans les locaux dédiés à l'activité recherche et au contact des chercheurs pour se faire une idée plus concrète des conditions de travail réelles des doctorants selon leur situation (i.e., avec ou sans financement), la culture disciplinaire correspondante, la relation entre le doctorant et le superviseur, etc. Les doctorants devraient aussi être davantage sensibilisés à toutes les possibilités de carrière qui existent en dehors du secteur académique (Lean, 2012 ;McAlpine et al., 2021). Par ailleurs, à l'appui de sondages réalisés en ligne et d'entretiens semi-dirigés réalisés auprès de jeunes docteurs et doctorants d'Amérique du nord, d'Europe, d'Afrique du sud et d'Océanie, une étude récente menée par Skakni et al. (2020) révèle que les jeunes docteurs arrivent mieux à faire face à l'incertitude concernant leur carrière par l'acquisition, pendant leur thèse, de « compétences de carrière ». ...
Un travail de recherche qui ne progresse pas, une supervision insatisfaisante, des perspectives de carrière incertaines ou encore le sentiment de ne pas appartenir à une communauté scientifique, telles sont les difficultés que rencontrent nombre de thésards pendant leur doctorat. Si ces difficultés font l’objet d’un nombre croissant de publications, peu de travaux se sont attachés à mettre en lumière les déterminants du vécu positif du doctorat. En effet, le vécu d’une thèse peut être extrêmement enrichissant. Dans cette revue de la littérature, notre objectif est d’exploiter les connaissances actuelles permettant d’envisager l’expérience du doctorat comme positive pour en extraire des pistes susceptibles d’améliorer cette expérience. Dans un premier temps, nous exposons les éléments de la littérature qui démontrent que, bien que le doctorat puisse être vécu comme une épreuve difficile, il peut également être vécu comme une expérience très positive. Dans un second temps, nous proposons des pistes d’améliorations de l’expérience du doctorat. Dans l’ensemble, cet article, présente un intérêt pour les doctorants désireux d’approfondir leurs réflexions sur leurs conditions de travail, mais aussi pour tous ceux qui les entourent, tels les directeurs de thèse, les directeurs d’unités de recherche, et les directeurs d’écoles doctorales.
... Following ethical approval from the University of Oxford, we contacted participants who took part in our previous studies on UK PhD holders in non-academic careers (e.g. McAlpine et al., 2021), to see whether they would be interested in a follow-up interview focused on workplace writing. We also engaged in snowball sampling and posted a recruitment ad to Twitter, resulting in a final sample of 11 participants. ...
Full-text available
PhD researchers are increasingly working in non-academic sectors, garnering interest in the extent to which doctoral education is relevant for careers beyond academia. Writing, arguably the most important and challenging activity PhDs must master, is a skill also coveted in the knowledge economy, required of employees across labour sectors. Using the concept of genre knowledge to frame how genres are performed in various situations, this exploratory qualitative study examines the perceptions of UK PhD holders in non-academic posts regarding the similarities and differences between academic and non-academic genres and the relevance of their PhD writing skills to their workplace writing. Findings suggest that PhD researchers’ time and investment in academic writing during the degree leads to an understanding of how genres work – knowledge that allows PhDs to adjust to writing in new situations.
In this article, we analyse the processes that contribute to changes in career aspirations among German PhD graduates. Drawing on the concept of cooling out (Goffman 1952 Goffman, E. 1952. “On Cooling the Mark Out.” Psychiatry 15 (4): 451–463. doi:10.1080/00332747.1952.11022896.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]; Clark 1960 Clark, B. 1960. “The ‘Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education.” American Journal of Sociology 65: 569–576. doi:10.1086/222787.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) – which describes semi-intentional practices that can cause a gradual decline in educational or career aspirations – the paper expands on this by distinguishing between formal and informal processes that contribute to graduates deciding to abandon an academic career path. To explore the phenomenon, we employ a qualitative interview study with 21 PhD graduates from different academic disciplines, all of whom have chosen careers outside the academic realm at different biographical stages – often voluntarily, but occasionally involuntarily. The aim of the study is to paint a more differentiated and empirically underpinned picture of typical cooling out constellations in academia. We conclude by discussing the implications for creating effective PhD support in transition phases.
With increasing focus on the outcomes of doctoral education, especially regarding employability, we aimed to explore how PhD graduates from humanities and social sciences (HASS), and science disciplines perceived the development of a holistic set of graduate attributes during their doctoral study and the application of these attributes in the workplace. We analysed 136 survey responses and interviews with 21 PhD graduates from one NZ and two US universities. We found that overall, PhD graduates are satisfied with their development as researchers, but had concerns regarding the development of some transferrable skills and attributes. Graduates from the three universities perceived the application of attributes in the workplace similarly. Comparisons of graduate attribute application to their development revealed the following areas requiring better support: teamwork, communication, project management, entrepreneurship, and networking. While development of affective attributes related to global citizenship was lower than expected, graduates perceived these were not always required in the workplace. Universities should consider how their doctoral training programmes can promote a more holistic development of desirable skills and attributes. We provide a possible categorisation to evaluate attainment of desirable attributes for PhD graduates, to ensure researchers and institutions are targeting key attributes.
Purpose The purpose of this study is to understand the interaction between the component domains of doctoral value to identify those which have a greater influence on overall perceptions of the value of a doctorate. This study also investigates what may lead an individual to say the doctorate was not worth doing. Design/methodology/approach Using Bryan and Guccione’s (2018) conceptual model of “doctoral value”, this study used a qualitative survey, to examine 261 perceptions of the value of the doctorate in a range of employment contexts. Findings Individual perceptions of value are dynamically influenced by the fulfilment of expectations, career achievements and the employer’s perception of the doctorate’s value. The authors found that the circumstances of respondents’ current employment are the most common predictor of overall perceived value and that those who reported that their doctorates were “not worth doing” attributed this to lack of a positive career outcome. Originality/value A recurring concept was that respondents considered that their doctorate had been “worth doing” for the value it conveyed to them personally, but not “worth having” because of its low value to employers. This new understanding illustrates the complexity of decision-making and the individual career timelines that influence value. This study positions the “career value” and “personal value” domains as determinant in informing individual value judgements. The findings of this study lend weight to calls for doctoral education to focus on non-academic careers and also inspire further investigation into how non-academic employers recruit, motivate and value doctoral graduates.
Full-text available
Doctoral graduate attributes are the qualities, skills, and competencies that graduates possess, having completed their doctorate degree. Graduate attributes, in general, lack conceptual clarity, making the investigation into and quality assurance processes attached to doctoral outcomes challenging. As many graduate attributes are “unseen” or implicit, the full range of attributes that doctoral graduate actually possess needs to be synthesized, so that they may be recognized and utilized by educational stakeholders. The aim of this study was to establish and describe what attributes graduates from doctoral degrees possess. A systematic review of peer-reviewed, primary literature published between January 2016 and June 2021 was conducted, identifying 1668 articles. PRISMA reporting was followed, and after screening and full text critical appraisal, 35 articles remained for summation through thematic synthesis. The doctoral graduate attribute domains identified included knowledge, research skills, communication skills, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, reputation, scholarship, higher order thinking skills, personal resourcefulness, and active citizenship. Many of the domains were conceptualized as transferable or interdisciplinary, highlighting the relevance of the attributes doctoral graduates possess. The review findings align with existing frameworks yet extend those that tend to focus on generic “seen” attributes, and include a range of "unseen”, intrinsic qualities as outcomes of the doctoral degree. The review contributes to the conceptual development of doctoral graduate attributes, by synthesizing actual outcomes, as opposed to prospective attributes or attributes-in-process. Doctoral graduate attributes should be conceptualized to integrate both generic attributes alongside intrinsic qualities that are important for employability. Increased awareness as to the scope of doctoral graduate attributes among stakeholders, such as doctoral supervisors, students, graduates and employers, may facilitate improved educational outcomes and employability. Future research into the contextual relevance of the domains identified and how they are developed may be beneficial. Future research could involve the development of context-relevant scales to empirically measure doctoral graduate attributes among alumni populations, as a quality assurance outcome indicator. Such findings could inform program reform, improving the relevance of doctoral education and the employability of doctoral graduates.
Full-text available
During the past two decades, PhD graduate numbers have increased dramatically with graduates viewed by governments as a means to advance the knowledge economy and international competitiveness. Concurrently, universities have also invested in policies to monitor satisfaction, retention, and timely completion—and researchers have expanded the study of PhD experience. We, as such researchers, have increasingly received invitations from university decision-makers to present research evidence which might guide their doctoral programs. Their interest provoked us to do a qualitative systematized review of research on doctoral experience—seeking evidence of practices that influenced retention, satisfaction, and completion. The result contributes a synthesis of the critical research evidence that could be used to inform doctoral education policy. We also demonstrate the possibilities of such evidence by suggesting some potential recommendations, while recognizing that there is no direct relationship between research results and their transformation into particular institutional contexts in ways that enhance doctoral experience. We hope our initiative will be taken up and extended by other researchers, particularly the research gaps we note, so we can collectively support the use of research evidence to influence both doctoral policies and practices—with the goal to better prepare PhD researchers for their futures and better support their supervisors.
Full-text available
Increased public investment in PhD education to drive innovation has led to a recent rapid growth in the number of PhD graduates. Academic labour markets have not developed at the same pace. An ever-larger share of the graduates is finding employment in industry. The transition from academia to industry is not always easy. The present study aims to provide insights into the role played by PhDs’ networks in the job search after graduation. Our data comprise interviews with industry-employed doctoral graduates in STEM disciplines from Sweden, Norway and the UK. Our findings show that PhDs’ autonomously built personal networks can help match their specific scientific expertise with labour market demands. We distinguish country-specific patterns and characteristics of the transition, in which regional career paths are more (Scandinavia) or less (the UK) noticeable. The study has practical implications, in particular for PhD students and graduates, related to their career orientation.
Full-text available
To move forward in their career journeys, individuals engage in career exploration by reflecting upon both personal (i.e., internal) and contextual (i.e., external) factors. The extent to which this exploration is effectively processed drives individuals' attitudes, behaviors, and other career- and work-related outcomes. Over the last two decades, a growing body of empirical research has been undertaken in relation to career exploration. However, debate continues as to how career exploration should be conceptualized and measured, which factors influence its development, and how and when it affects individuals' career and work outcomes. The present study undertakes a review of the career exploration literature to identify research gaps and assist in the development of an agenda for future work. In particular, the review reveals the need to integrate a dynamic life-span perspective to enhance our understanding of career exploration and the need for future research to identify the key mechanisms that explain the effects of career exploration and the contingencies of any such effects. Additionally, future research should investigate individuals' real-time experiences, adopt longitudinal and experimental designs, broaden the current narrow focus of studies on students to include employees, examine multilevel phenomena, and examine the effects of institutional and economic contexts on individuals' career exploration.
Full-text available
Drawing on developmental networks theory, this qualitative research study explores the professional preparation and career decision-making processes of doctoral students in the sciences. The study is based on 95 semi-structured interviews with informants at three research universities in the United States. Though many students were interested in non-academic career tracks, they were largely unaware of the breadth of their choices or how to best prepare for these careers. Unable to cultivate networks in non-academic careers, many students turned to peers to fill the career development gap. Due to their lack of knowledge about career options, among other factors, students often delayed selecting and preparing for careers until the end of their graduate studies. Implications for doctoral education practice are discussed.
Full-text available
PhD recipients acquire discipline-specific knowledge and a range of relevant skills during their training in the life sciences, physical sciences, computational sciences, social sciences, and engineering. Empirically testing the applicability of these skills to various careers held by graduates will help assess the value of current training models. This report details results of an Internet survey of science PhDs (n = 8099) who provided ratings for fifteen transferrable skills. Indeed, analyses indicated that doctoral training develops these transferrable skills, crucial to success in a wide range of careers including research-intensive (RI) and non-research-intensive (NRI) careers. Notably, the vast majority of skills were transferrable across both RI and NRI careers, with the exception of three skills that favored RI careers (creativity/innovative thinking, career planning and awareness skills, and ability to work with people outside the organization) and three skills that favored NRI careers (time management, ability to learn quickly, ability to manage a project). High overall rankings suggested that graduate training imparted transferrable skills broadly. Nonetheless, we identified gaps between career skills needed and skills developed in PhD training that suggest potential areas for improvement in graduate training. Therefore, we suggest that a two-pronged approach is crucial to maximizing existing career opportunities for PhDs and developing a career-conscious training model: 1) encouraging trainees to recognize their existing individual skill sets, and 2) increasing resources and programmatic interventions at the institutional level to address skill gaps. Lastly, comparison of job satisfaction ratings between PhD-trained employees in both career categories indicated that those in NRI career paths were just as satisfied in their work as their RI counterparts. We conclude that PhD training prepares graduates for a broad range of satisfying careers, potentially more than trainees and program leaders currently appreciate.
Rising worldwide scrutiny of the PhD has focused on issues such as return on investment and career outcomes. This article investigates PhD graduate careers and knowledge transfer looking at the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS). Firstly, our extensive literature review of PhD graduate outcomes reveals limited knowledge of HASS careers and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) bias. Secondly, our case study of graduates suggests HASS PhDs provide a vital conduit for end-user engagement and knowledge transfer. Our findings deepen knowledge about the careers of HASS PhDs by revealing pre-existing professional networks may be harnessed to inform end-user relationships throughout candidature and post-graduation. Contrary to dominant assumptions, these networks may endure even for graduates in the academy. This under-recognized phenomenon demonstrates the multi-sector knowledge transfer capacity of HASS researchers with implications for their research capability and career development needs and perceptions of the value of their research.
Global demand for higher education continues to grow, with increasing numbers of doctoral degrees awarded annually. The global academic labor market is growing too, albeit at a slower pace, and this impacts future career prospects of doctoral gradu; however, evaluation of their career outcomes is lacking. We examined the career pathways of PhDs in Estonia from three different cohorts: 2000, 2005 and 2010. The inductive qualitative longitudinal analysis we applied allowed us to reveal factors influencing the career progress of these cohorts, indicating the major impact of chance events on careers. An inductive data analysis – tracking the individual careers of 389 doctorates and conducting 69 in-depth qualitative interviews – revealed that 1) chance events in academia concerned 30% of the sample, 2) national-, institutional- and individual-level chance events exist, and 3) individuals can benefit from chance events by recognizing the case, anticipating possible outcomes, and acting according to the expected career prospects.
The potential value of a PhD holder to the prosperity of an employing company and, by extension, to the country in which the firm is located, is recognized in principle. Yet this recognition does not always translate into practice. Interviews with managers from private companies, journalists specializing in higher education, young PhD graduates, institutional members, and researchers from the public sector in France highlight some of the reasons why this might be so. Corporate recruitment practices, universities’ resistance to change, and the ambitions of the PhD students themselves are identified as impediments to the hiring of PhDs in the private sector. Developing a professional doctorate program, improving the dissemination of information about the value of a PhD degree, and developing and leveraging PhD graduates’ networks may help boost the number of PhDs in the business arena.