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STEM careers: Work, Employment and Lifecourse Trajectories of Mathematical Scientists in the UK and Germany


The quality of university education and research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is at the centre of policy and academic debates in the UK, Germany and the European Union. It is viewed as the key to a building a competitive economy, creating high-technology jobs and increasing the beneficial impact of research and development (R&D) on society. Yet, we know little about how recent changes in scientific funding, university structures and labour markets affect the professional pathways and life-courses of scientists who constitute the highest-skill end of the national, European and global workforce.

This 3-year study, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will provide new data about the current situation of the scientific labour market in the UK and Germany in a European and global context. It will help understand the factors which affect the work and lives of of men and women of different nationalities, employed in the mathematical and computing sciences. These factors include, among others: the international character of the scientific labour markets, the increasingly precarious employment conditions especially for early- and mid-career researchers, shifting funding and policy priorities. The analytical focus of this project is on the intersection of work and the lifecourse, in particular the following themes:

- What are the key events and stages in a researcher's life and career;

- Work-life balance: how researchers combine work and personal/family life;

- The interplay of structural and individual factors in the transitions between postgraduate study and work;

- International trajectories, academic migration;

- Dual-career (and dual-academic) couples, including those who live apart;

- Employent conditions, secure and insecure employment in academia and industry, and implications on the lifecourse;

- What barriers exist along the career path, but also what institutions, resources and good practices are in place in both countries to enable the scientist at different stages of his or her professional path and personal lifecourse.

Due to the specific focus on individual working lives and career trajectories, the study employs a qualitative methodology and a comparative two-casestudy framework. The study uses in-depth biographical, respondent-led interviews and institutional ethnography in both countries. In addition, websites of universities and other employers and printed materials related to scientists' employment will be examined, and secondary statistical data on the British and German scientific labour markets will form the background.

As a non-mathematician, in order to better understand the work of research mathematicians, I regularly attend academic and public events (lectures, colloquia, public engagement). I also attended undergraduate mathematics lectures and tutorials for one term.

The primary focus is on "early-career" trajectories, i.e. PhD and post-doc in both academia and industry, but the study also examines a smaller number of biographies of both younger, and of more established researchers of all ages; "atypical" careers; and unemployment and underemployment among people with research degrees.

An informal (and often updated) summary is available on the project's research blog; and if you are interested or have questions or ideas, please do get in touch by email.

Key words: academic globalisation, academic labour market esp. early careers, careers in science, mathematics and computer science, doctoral labour markets, life course studies, science education, sociology of scientific knowledge, working lives

Schlüsselwörter: akademische Globalisierung, Arbeitsmarkt für Akademikerinnen und Akademiker insb. Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs, Wissenschaftskarrieren, Mathematik und Informatik, Lebenslaufforschung, Wissenschaftserziehung/Wissenschaftsbildung, Wissenssoziologie, Arbeitsleben.

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The study uses an in-depth, qualitative methodology to examine

Principal Investigator:
Dr Milena I. Kremakova

The Leverhulme Trust

1 October 2013 - 30 September 2016