22 SES 10 D, Academic Work and Professional Development
The paper reports on the initial findings of the first national study of post-doctoral researchers’ lives in Ireland. The project is currently underway and is being carried out in the Cultures, Academic Values and Education (CAVE ) research centre at the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin and it is expected that substantive quantitative and qualitative findings will be available by August 2014. The aim of the study is to examine, from a sociological and policy perspective, the lives and careers of early to mid-career academic researchers in the seven Irish universities in Ireland. With reference to the policy context, the origins are to be found in the establishment of the European Research Area (ERA) in 2000 and the Lisbon Strategy of the same year, in which the Heads of Government in the EU declared the intention of making ‘Europe the most dynamic and competitive knowledge economy in the world by 2010’ (EU, 2000). The link with publically funded research in institutes of higher education lies in the finding that ‘each percent spend on public research and development leads to an extra 0.17% growth in productivity’ (Liberali, 2006), that more research leads to more and better-paid jobs. The result of this European initiative has been the formulation of a number of further policy statements both at European and national level. In all of these, the aim has been to make Europe an attractive place in which to become and remain a researcher, and for Europe to retain the best qualified and most talented researchers by developing a distinctive career path.
The project has been undertaken against the background of three informing theoretical and structural factors. The first is the lack of a coherent sociology of higher education in general (Steven, Armstrong & Arum, 2008) and most especially a lack of a sociology of this particular group of academic workers that has emerged in the bifurcation of the teaching and research activities of the contemporary university. The second is the extensive body of policies concerning academic researchers as important elements in the construction of the knowledge economy of Europe, and, thirdly, a lack of empirical studies into the actual lives of academic researchers, particularly in Ireland.
The planned and funded timeframe runs from April 2013 to December 2014 and the investigation employs a multiple case study approach. The cases are framed theoretically by Aronowitz’s (2000) notion of the ‘knowledge factory’ and will explore four dimensions of researcher lives: a) the specific social and cultural networks of their lives; b) views on the production of knowledge as a possible defining aspect of identity; c) the interface of academia and industry/society, and d) the physical, infrastructural and employment factors impinging on researchers’ lives. The cases are bounded also by the sample frame which includes only postdoctoral researchers who are working in the seven Irish universities and who have at least two years of experience in postdoctoral research. The sample frame does not include researchers in business research and development, or researchers in other colleges of the higher education sector in Ireland.
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