This is what precarity feels like: Early Career Researchers and “cruel optimism”

Extremely powerful!

All the Single Writing Ladies

The AHRC defines of “Early Career Researchers” (ECRs) as individuals “within eight years of the award of their PhD […] or within six years of their first academic appointment.” In practice, ECRs are a highly heterogeneous demographic comprising individuals in a range of employment circumstances, from hourly paid contracts and fixed term fellowships, to permanent roles. In this write-up of a paper I gave at the MeCCSA annual conference, I draw out some of the key themes arising from research on recent Arts and Humanities PhD graduates, individuals who often find themselves precariously employed.

In my research on Arts and Humanities researchers (published here), ECR respondents reported that their post-PhD career transitions were extremely challenging, for example using words like “tricky”, “tough”, or “emotionally dispiriting”.

In a nutshell, post-PhD transitions are characterised by:

  • Exploitative contracts (e.g. fractional, fixed term, zero hours, etc,)
  • ECRs conducting research unpaid, reliance on…

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