Inequality practices in the construction of international mobility as a selection criterion for assistant professor positions (by Channah Herschberg)
Last year, I was thrilled to discover that the University of Warwick accommodates a Network on Academic Mobilities and Immobilities (AMIN) and that many likemindedresearchers question the implications of the trend of internationalisation in academia. On May 8 - International Women’s Day - I had the honour to present my work on inequality practices in the construction of international mobility at the AMIN/SRHE hosted event titled ‘Gendering academic mobility: international perspectives’ (see another AMIN blog post about this event by Xuemeng Cao). The aim of my presentation was to offer a critical perspective on international mobility as a selection criterion for assistant professor positions.
In my presentation I touched upon the neoliberalisation of academia, which has caused a rise in the number of PhDs and temporary academic positions and at the same time a decrease in the number of permanent positions. In the competition for a declining number of stable positions, the criterion of international mobility tends to play an increasingly important role. Yet, how this criterion is adopted in formal policies and applied in practice is what I look at in my research.
I shared the results of two qualitative studies on recruitment and selection criteria for assistant professorships in order to reveal how criteria can lead to the in- or exclusion of early career researchers. In my presentation I focused on the criterion of international mobility, showing inequality practices that come with the application of this criterion.
First, I discussed the results of a Dutch case study, in which I made a comparison between findings in the natural sciences (STEM) and social sciences (SSH). In the STEM department, postdoc experience abroad is a formal selection criterion for assistant professor positions. Selection committee members confirm that this is a decisive criterion, however, my analysis shows that “abroad” does not just mean anywhere in the world. Committee members prefer candidates who have done postdocs in the US, the UK, or Germany. Therefore, in the application of the criterion, selection committees could exclude candidates who have postdoc experience in ‘non-valued’ countries. Furthermore, demanding mobility across country borders assumes that candidates are physically, psychologically, socially, and financially able to travel. This requirement can be exclusionary to early career researchers who face restrictions to their international mobility. In the SSH department, international mobility is not a formal selection criterion for assistant professorships. Selection committee members argue that this is not a decisive criterion but rather an additional benefit as it signals devotion to the profession.
Second, I presented the results of an international comparative study based on case studies in six European countries. I shared the gender practice of constructing the criterion of international mobility. I found that in their narratives selection committee members in all six countries equal women as mothers. My analysis shows that they assume parenthood will create difficulties for women to be internationally mobile and therefore expect women to be unable to meet this selection criterion. I argue that this impacts committee members’ perceptions of women as suitable candidates.
More information on gender practices in the recruitment and selection of early career researchers can be found in a research report that I wrote together with my colleagues, entitled ‘Gender practices in the construction of excellence’.
Download Channah’s presentation podcast here.