In and Out of Academic Life: Paths and Identities


The context within which academics work has been undergoing changes around the world, increasingly intensely over the past two decades as practices from New Public Management and the neoliberal agenda have entered the realm of science policy. To understand the impact of these changes and academics’ responses to them, we are undertaking an intergenerational and international study of why and how people become academics and why and how they leave academia.

Narrative biographical interviews are being conducted across three generations, namely with people who became academics in the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s. The sample includes men and women who entered and left academia at different ages in order to do justice to the fact that some people enter academia after working in other sectors, some choose to remain active academics long after the traditional retirement age, while others leave academia in mid-career to pursue different kinds of work elsewhere. Initially the study is focused on three countries (France, Germany, and the United States); partners are being sought to extend the research into other countries (e.g., Russia and Brazil).

Drawing especially on identity theories and career theories, the analysis explores the factors that influenced the respondents’ choices over the course of their life and careers in and out of academia. Which features remain stable across generations and cultures? Which motives and development paths have changed over the past decades? How have changes in science policy and related institutional practices affected people’s aspirations and decisions in the selected countries?

The findings of this study will enrich theory development relating to identities and careers as well as inform policy making and human resource management in academia. The project is also designed to stimulate and support reflection processes among academics at different points in their life and career choices.