22 SES 11 B, Development of Academics: Careers and Professions
While postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) are an increasingly important and productive group of employees in academia, they lack a further career prospects and embeddedness within their organization. Our multimethod study consists of three parts: a survey, in-depth interviews and three focus group meetings with postdocs and representatives of the HRM staff and the Dutch Research Council (NWO).
We are investigating how and why postdoctoral researchers are caught within this dual ambivalence, the first caused by the complex combination of managerial and professional logics, the second derived from them being highly educated and specialized staff, but weakly connected to their employing organization. The three focus group discussions transpired that postdocs require and appreciate guidance and support, particularly when having to leave academia. The fragile balance between their own expectations and desires, the input from their supervisors and the more distanced role of the HRM department determines this support.
Postdocs are a crucial group of employees in academia (e.g. Davis, 2009), for example they account for about 40% of the first author publications in the renowned Science journal (O’Grady & Beam, 2011). Still, they are lacking visibility and embeddedness within their organization. Despite the importance of postdocs for the university and the determining nature of the postdoc period, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the postdoc position.
Van der Weijden et al (2015b) describe three main issues causing this uncertainty. The first is the limited of knowledge on the postdoc function and demographics (Davis, 2009; Mitchell et al., 2013), and they are not part of the official formation system (Dutch= UFO system). The second issue is the high amount of ambiguity on the career prospects of postdocs inside and outside of academia (van der Weijden et al., 2015b; Davis, 2009; van Arensbergen, 2013; van Balen et al., 2012). Third and related issue is the organisation of guidance and support for postdocs. HRM and talent management for postdocs is relatively underdeveloped (Thunnissen, 2015) and the needs for support of postdocs are largely unknown (O’Grady & Beam, 2011).
It is this third issue, the guidance and support for postdocs, which is the central topic of this paper. Postdocs are not working in a vacuum but within academic institutions in a modern day society. Academic organizations have changed quite substantially over the past decennia, in terms of tasks, structure and culture, due to increased internationalization, less government influence and funding and a larger impact of external stakeholders (Enders et al., 2011). Like other public organisations, universities are increasingly financed on an output-oriented manner, and therefore emphasis on performance plays an important role (e.g. Decramer, Smolders & Vanderstraeten, 2013; Häyrinen-Alestalo & Peltola, 2009; Pollitt & Bouckeart, 2004). Previous research shows that postdocs seemed to be trapped between the formerly public organization of the universities and the more privatized conditions of their employment, as well as their own ambitions and the lack of career possibilities both inside and outside academia.
Intention is to use Reay & Hinings (2005, 2009) approach towards the competing institutional logics to explain the ambivalence of the postdocs and their employment conditions.
This paper provides a rare glimpse into this relatively unexplored but important group, and focuses specially at what kind of guidance and support postdocs themselves require and expect, given their ambitions to pursue an academic career despite their knowledge of limited prospects in a longer term perspective. After presenting our research context in the full paper, we will go into the background of postdocs and their trajectories, their changing prospects, the research methods and the preliminary findings of this study.
References (incomplete) Boeije, Hennie (2005) Analyseren in kwalitatief onderzoek. Den Haag: Boom, Lemma. Davis, G. (2009). Improving the Postdoctoral Experience: An Empirical Approach. In: Freeman, R.B. & D.L. Goroff (eds) Science and Engineering Careers in the United States: An Analysis of Markets and Employment. University of Chicago Press. De Goede, M., Belder, R. & De Jonge, J. (2013). Academic Careers in the Netherlands, Facts & Figures. www.rathenau.nl (retrieved 7 November 2013). Felisberti, F. M., & Sear, R. (2014). Postdoctoral researchers in the UK: A snapshot at factors affecting their research output. PLoS One 9, 4), e93890. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093890. Fitzenberger, B., & Leuschner, U. (2012). Up or out: Research incentives and career prospects of postdocs in Germany. ESPE - UCL Department of Economics, Discussion paper 12-020. Retrieved from http://ftp.zew.de/pub/zew-docs/dp/dp12020.pdf
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