Exploring the experiences of early career academics
DocWork research began in 2006 because we were interested in why many doctoral students did not complete their degrees. However, our interest quickly broadened to examine the career trajectories of junior researchers. We first recruited social scientists in two universities in Canada and then in two universities in the UK, broadening the study to include post-PhD researchers. We did not initially imagine a longitudinal study but we ended up doing one. In 2010 we recruited scientists and, along with PhD and post-PhD researchers, included academics moving into pre-tenure positions. All in all, we have followed 48 individuals from 5 to 7 years and many others for shorter time periods. As we finished data collection in 2016, the 48 individuals were located in 30 institutions around the world in the academic, public, para-public and private sectors.
While the longitudinal research has ended, members of the group are involved in other research looking at the experiences of early career researchers in Spain, the UK, Finland and Switzerland. Further initiatives are underway, if funded, to explore the future of the PhD in humanities in Canada, with attention to post-PhD career development, especially outside of academia. Overall, what is clear is that much more energy needs to be invested in empirically documenting post-PhD non-academic careers as well as careers in the academy that benefit from a PhD, e.g. in corporate R&D or in research administration. In other words, we need to understand the benefits of the PhD for graduates as well as for those hiring them. Such efforts could potentially help strengthen graduate retention rates and enable a maximally effective application of post-PhD intellectual capital.