What Keeps Them Interested? Influences on the Stability of Research Career Intentions in the Course of Academic Qualification

Doreen Forbrig
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 217-235

While scientists play a crucial role within modern knowledge societies, the attractiveness of scientific careers in Germany is moderate due to career uncertainty and the limited perspectives of long-term retention in academia. This study identifies (intra-individual) changes in the career intentions of early career researchers. Furthermore, supporting factors for the stability of research career intentions are shown.

Recent studies investigated early career researchers’ career intentions and predictors for their development in cross-section. These studies determine influences of individual factors, such as interests or self-efficacy beliefs, and organizational aspects like working and doctoral training conditions. By contrast, there is little knowledge about intra-individual changes in career intentions in the course of academic qualification.

Longitudinal data of 101 research associates at a German university were collected via survey questionnaires in 2016 and 2018. Descriptive analysis was used to investigate changes in career intentions in consideration of doctoral phases. Logistic regression was applied to predict the stability of research career intentions over time.

So far, research investigated the career intentions of early career researchers in Germany solely in cross-section. The present paper contributes in two ways. Firstly, intra-individual changes in career intentions are identified from a longitudinal perspective. Secondly, the stability of research career intentions is explained, considering various individual and contextual factors based on the Social Cognitive Model of Career Choice.

Descriptive analyses illustrate the tendency of declining interest in scientific careers in the course of academic qualification. The stability of research career intentions is predicted by changes in attractiveness ratings of a professorship and subjective assessments of research abilities relative to peers. Changes in academic self-efficacy beliefs have no significant effect.

Firstly, the attraction of and the path to a professorship must be structurally strengthened. Secondly, early career researchers should be supported in developing realistic assessments of their subjective research skills relative to peers. Mentoring in addition to academic supervision, mental support, or opportunities for peer counseling are expected to be valuable offers.

Researchers seeking to explain the career intentions of early career researchers should be aware of their changeability. Hence, they should be investigated in extended longitudinal studies. Furthermore, impostor feelings as influencing factors on career intentions need further research.

Research and knowledge are the basis for innovation and progress. In today’s knowledge society, research is in direct competition with both other countries and the private sector. In order to attract the “brightest minds” for academia, universities and research institutes must gain a deeper understanding of factors influencing the stability of research career intentions.

Future research should focus on specific instruments of promoting early career researchers and how they affect the development of realistic assessments of individual research skills. Moreover, international ECRs should be explicitly considered since a researchers’ visa status potentially affects career prospects and individual career intentions.

research career intention, early career researchers, stability of research career intentions, scientific career, impostor phenomenon
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