Mapping post-doctoral pathways

Supervisor: Dr Sally Hancock

A) Rationale for the project

This project will track the early to mid-careers of PhD graduates.  Over the past decade, there has been a substantial growth in the number of PhD graduates internationally, and with this a shift in careers doctoral graduates go on to do. Indeed, in many national contexts, the vast majority of doctoral graduates will forge so-called ‘alternative’ careers outside of the academy. This trend has been met with two opposing reactions from commentators - there are those who characterise this as a necessary step in the development of the global knowledge economy, while others question the extent to which the PhD sufficiently prepares  ‘disillusioned and directionless’ PhD graduates for work beyond the academy. Despite the political and economic importance of this debate, there is relatively little robust empirical data tracking the careers of PhD graduates, and of the particular variables and decision processes which shape individual trajectories. 

B) References that should be read (if you do not have access to these, please email

Auroil, L., Misu, M. & Freeman, R. A. (2013). Careers of doctoral holders: analysis of labour market and mobility indicators. OECD Science, Technology and Industry working papers, 4.

Hancock, S., Hughes, G., & Walsh, E. (2017) Purist or Pragmatist? UK doctoral scientists’ moral positions on the knowledge economy. Studies in Higher Education. 42 (7).

Hancock, S. (2018). A future in the knowledge economy? Analysing the career strategies of doctoral scientists through the principles of game theory. Higher Education, doi:

Mangematin, V. (2000). PhD job market: professional trajectories and incentives during the PhD. Research Policy, 29(6), 741-56.

Nature (2011) Education: The PhD factory. Nature, 472, 276-79.

Nature (2014) Editorial: Harsh reality. Nature, 516, 7–8.

Nature (2017). Editorial: Many junior scientists need to take a hard look at their job prospects. Retrieved from

RCUK (2014) The Impact of Doctoral Careers. Retrieved from

Skovgaard-Pedersen H. (2014) New doctoral graduates in the knowledge economy: key trends and issues. Journal of Higher Education Management and Policy, 36(6), 632-45.

Vitae (2012) What do researchers want to do? Available at

Vitae (2013) What do researchers do? Early career progression of doctoral graduates. Retrieved from

Wakeling, P. (2017) Measuring Doctoral Student Diversity. RCUK.

C) Research aims / questions

You will develop research questions relating to the topic above. There is flexibility in terms of the focus you may take.  You may explore occupational differences by discipline, institution, occupational sector, or personal characteristics (such as gender, ethnicity or social class). 

D) Methods

The project could follow a quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method design depending on the interests, skills and context of the researcher. Once again, there is flexibility in terms of the theoretical framing that this research may adopt (e.g. economic, political, sociological). There should be a commitment to developing policy and practical implications arising from the research.