22 SES 07 A, Paper Session
Numbers of PhD students are disproportionately higher than numbers of academic positions in current universities and public research institutions (ESF 2017). It raises discussions about the goals and content of PhD training which are still mainly academic in the situation when the majority of PhD graduates will not pursue an academic career and about the setting of the academic environment in the frame of a discourse of excellence (Vostal 2015) which insinuates that “only the best ones should stay”. However, we miss the relevant basis for this discussion because our current knowledge about people who have left the academic career at its beginning is rather low. The present research focuses mostly on potential attrition from the academic profession not the real one or tracks current jobs of PhD holders (Cidlinska & Vohlidalova 2017, Donowitz et al. 2007, ESF 2017, Geuna & Shibayama 2014, Huisman et al. 2002, Devine & Hunter 2016, Kid & Green 2006, Lovitts 2001, Petersen 2011, Preston 2004, Tao & Gloria 2018). Therefore, we know demographic characteristics of people who have left academic career or think about the attrition and reasons for the possible attrition. But we do not know what kinds of early-career academics with what approaches to the academic profession and work leave the academic career. The presented study would like to contribute to filling this gap by focusing on the professional identities of people who have left the academic career at its beginning in the doctoral and postdoctoral stages.
Professional identity, specifically academic identity, has been proved as an important factor behind the development of academic career ambitions and motivation for academic work, satisfaction, and productivity (Lief et al. 2012, McAlpine 2012, Cidlinska 2019, Hagedorn 2000). Various disciplinary environments have been shown to create specific conditions and obstacles for constructing own academic identity of early-career academics while these obstacles are significantly gendered (Cidlinská 2019, Linkova 2014: 83-112). For these reasons, I pose two main research questions: 1) what professional identities did people who left the academic career at its beginning construct?; 2) are there any disciplinary and gender differences in these identities? The conference presentation will introduce the answers to these questions.
Specifically, I base my analysis on McAlpine‘s (2012) concept of identity as a trajectory which stands on three key pillars: 1) own agency: an effort to be active and to plan; 2) personal life: embeddedness of professional experience into the broader context of individual‘s life; 3) past: impact of past experiences on current plans and notions of the future. This concept enables to understand the motivation for entering PhD study and its relation to professional identity in a broader context of an individual's life which is important especially for being able to capture gender specifics. Because I focus on the construction of professional identity connected to the idea of a professional future after completing PhD study, I call it “planned” professional identity.
For research of identity is qualitative approach a standard (Pifer and Baker 2013). The presented study is based on 45 in-depth narrative interviews (60-120 minutes) with individuals from various disciplines (6 women and 7 men from Social sciences and humanities field (SSH), 13 women and 19 men from Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field (STEM)) who have left an academic path in their doctoral or post-doctoral stage (up to 5 years after achieving PhD). Interviews were collected in 2013-2017. The interview scenario consisted of the questions about the individual´s way to the research discipline, to the PhD study and academic profession, about the consequent process of and reasons for the attrition, and about their current profession and career plans. The presented study focuses on the way to the discipline, PhD study, and academic profession and on this basis identifies “planned” professional identities. The analysis was based on principles of grounded theory (Charmaz 2006). Thus, I have selected an inductive approach in which I have created a theory, specifically a typology of “planned” professional identities of people who have left academic path, directly based on data.
Four types of „planned“ professional identity have been identified: 1) scientist, 2) academic worker/researcher, 3) non-specified professional identity, 4) highly qualified expert in the specific field. These types are unequally represented in the groups of research participants from the SSH and STEM fields and between men and women. While in STEM field participants entered PhD study with more or less ambitious plan to pursue an academic career and spoke about themselves as scientists or researchers, in SSH field more various motivations and less clear professional identity occurred. However, it does not mean that the entrance to PhD study was more deliberated in the STEM group. On the contrary, participants often simply continued in research work they liked. In the SSH group was no exception to enter PhD study few years after finishing graduate study with the intent to further develop themselves because they feel stagnating intellectually in their jobs. Thus, participants in the STEM field entered PhD study with a plan to do academic profession even if they finally left it. Participants in the SSH group wanted to either pursue the academic career or gain knowledge and skills for personal development and/or for expert practice outside academia. In both fields, only in the case of women, the "planned" professional identity of a highly qualified expert in the specific field was identified. These women entered PhD study for increasing their competitiveness in the carefully chosen field in both, academic and non-academic labor market, and for ensuring high social status. This finding suggests that women more than men believe that if they want to reach the highest positions, they need to fulfill all formal requirements. They rely a priori on their own effort rather than on networks and support from peers and senior colleagues.
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