Nexus Project

A qualitative study of postdoc careers


The postdoc career stage is increasing in numbers and duration worldwide. At the same time, the postdoc role is complex, open, and uncertain: The tasks postdocs are confronted with are more diverse and complex compared to the Ph.D. stage. There is also less guidance helping postdocs to cope with the situation.
This presentation addresses the question how postdocs learn what it means to ‘be a postdoc’. Bridging the literatures on the socialization of postdocs and on academic competition, we reveal a neglected function of academic competition:
Competition is not only a mechanism for allocating scarce resources, it also has a socializing function because it conveys expectations and values to early career scientists.
Drawing on qualitative interviews with 60 postdocs in Modern History and Particle Physics in Germany, we show how they distinguish competitions for publications, funding, and jobs. Different types of competition convey different expectations to them. The multiplicity of competitions experiences by postdocs results in time conflicts and “role strain”.

Kathia Serrano is a professor of sociology at Heidelberg University. She works on scientific governance, precarious careers and civic engagement.

3rd April 2024 at 13:00 (CEST)

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