This project, ‘Postdoctoral Researchers: their (in)formal networks and further Career structure’, aims at investigating the current and future careers of postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) in the Netherlands, in relation to their social, professional and organisational networks. We attempt to establish a new, critical perspective in studying networks and employment relations in and outside academia given that existing theories in this area fail to do justice to their unique and complex situation (Goastellec et al., 2013; Teelken & Van der Weijden, 2018). There is an emerging literature on the role of networks in the people’s careers in professional organizations (Kokot, 2014), but not in the case of junior academics, or more specifically postdocs.
The employment situation of postdocs within academia is unique because they are highly educated and motivated, closely involved with and contributing to the primary process of academia (Häyrinen-Alestalo & Peltola 2006). However, they generally lack a longer-term perspective and tenured contracts (Van der Weijden et al., 2015). Outside academia their opportunities for employment are equality difficult (Zollner, 2016). Especially striking is the contradiction between the postdocs’ weak institutional employment relations against the strength of their own personal initiatives through their (in)formal networks.
In order to investigate the mutual interaction between (in)formal networks and organisational structures (Moser, 2013), we will use here the model as proposed by Gläser and Laudel (2015). They explain the peculiarities of academic careers in contrast with general career research by distinguishing three different types of careers through which academics move simultaneously:
- A Cognitive Career, which refers to the content of their work.
- The Community Career, related to the (in)formal networks.
- The Organisational Career, which contains typically a sequence of jobs.
Accordingly, our research question is: How and to what extent do postdocs shape their career development either in- or outside academia by using their (in)formal networks?