22 SES 04 A, Postdoctoral Researchers: Working Conditions and Career Prospects
The paper reports on the second stage findings of the first national study of post-doctoral researchers’ career and life experiences in Ireland. The project has been carried out in the Cultures, Academic Values and Education (CAVE ) research centre at the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin in the last two years. Initial findings from the quantitative data were reported last year and this year we wish to report on data generated by 30 semi-structured interviews carried out with participants who took part in the survey. The sample is drawn from all seven of Ireland’s universities.
The study examines, from a sociological and policy perspective, the lives and careers of early to mid-career academic researchers in the seven Irish universities in Ireland. The policy origins are 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). Higher Education institutes across Europe have responded to this by developing institutional strategies that links research to these economic and political aims. As a result, universities have seen the establishment and growth, not only of a new mode of academic research but also the emergence of a new type of researcher working in a complex network of relationships with academic, industry and society.
The project is set 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 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 lives of academic researchers, particularly in Ireland. The study has a close affinity to work by Teelken and van der Weijden on post-docs (Teelken & Huisman, 2008; van der Weijden, 2013)
The investigation reported here employs a multiple case study approach. The cases are framed theoretically by Aronowitz’s (2000) notion of the ‘knowledge factory’ and interrogated 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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