On Becoming a “Distinguished” Scientist. Careers, Individuality and Collectivity in Postdoctoral Researchers’ Accounts on Living and Working in the Life Sciences.
AbstractThe last decade has seen significant shifts in the framework conditions of living and working in the academic life sciences, such as changing funding structures, increasing project-type character of scientific work and the integration of multiple quality assessment mechanisms into structures of scientific knowledge production. Alongside these changes there have also been significant transformations of career rationales in science; normatively, careers today require engaging in international mobility and global competition as well as reoccurring moments of evaluation, application and selection. Employment is increasingly characterized by short-term contracts, and local working contexts often become momentary stopping points along an internationalized career trajectory. In the life sciences in Austria, the number of short-term positions on a junior level has increased due to recent political attention and investments. Yet, the number of subsequent senior positions has not grown at the same rate at all. As similar constellations can be found in many OECD countries, this leads to excessive international competition for a relatively small number of senior positions among an increasing number of junior researchers. Hence, “career” in the life sciences today can be framed as a narrative about scientists performing and competing individually on a global stage. However, as research processes become more collaborative to address current epistemic challenges, these scientists are also part of specific local research collectives (e.g. research groups, project teams) in which they work and live. This tension is the starting point for this doctoral thesis: Drawing on qualitative interviews with postdoctoral scientists and additional materials collected in the ELSA/GEN-AU funded project “Living Changes in the Life Sciences. Tracing the ‘Ethical’ and the ‘Social’ in Scientific Practices and Work Culture” (Project leader: U. Felt. 09/2007 – 12/2010), the thesis explores how given current career rationales that emphasize competition, individuality and international mobility, postdoctoral life scientists relate to and engage with different forms of collectivity in their local working contexts in Austria. It takes the form of a cumulative dissertation, presenting three articles accepted by/submitted to international peer-reviewed journals. It is framed by an introduction section, connecting passages between the articles and a final discussion and conclusion section.