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Doctoral students negotiating the shift to academic positions

There is a scarcity of research exploring how doctoral students make the transition to academia and the influences that enable these transitions. Work in this area often takes the form of handbooks, providing practical advice to doctoral candidates and, occasionally, to their supervisors. With few exceptions, this work tends not to offer theoretical insights and to minimise the way gender, class, ethnicity and other identity markers affecting the transition process.

Extant literature also fails to acknowledge that the transition to academia is often not a straightforward, linear process. It is subject to interruptions and can be complex and messy, with the boundaries between student and academic, and a fortiori between being a doctoral student and an academic, increasingly blurred at a time when postgraduate students are constructed and expected to operate as ‘productive employees’ as soon as they enter postgraduate programmes.

The aim of the study is to understand how students who have recently submitted their PhD thesis negotiate this challenging context in building an academic career, with specific consideration of the role of the doctoral supervisor in this process. It is expected that the project findings will support the case for change to the routine casualisation of early career academic staff by providing in-depth evidence of how casualisation impacts on individuals and widens existing inequalities in academia.

Specifically, we address the following objectives:

  • To understand how PhD students negotiate the transition from doctoral student to academic and come to take up an academic position;
  • To consider the role of PhD supervisors and institutions in enabling access to capitals and resources in relation to gaining an academic position;
  • To explore how capitals are mobilised and converted in academic (employment-related) opportunities throughout the transition period, with specific reference to the student-supervisor relationship;
  • To investigate how, during the transition process, intersections of gender, social class, ethnicity, age, disability, nationality and sexuality influence the mobilisation and conversion of capitals in academic opportunities in a context where the number of PhD holders outnumber the number of positions available.

The final report will be concise and written in an engaging and accessible style. It will include: an executive summary; a discussion of the key findings; and some recommendations for HE policy-makers (e.g. DfE colleagues and senior university leaders) and practitioners (e.g. academic staff, early career researchers). The aim of the report will be to inform best practice in relation to doctoral supervision. 


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Project last modified 22/10/2021