Defining ‘Early Career’

There have been an increasing number of academic publications dedicated to the discussion of gender at work in HE institutions (Blackmore 2002; Deem 1998; Johansson and Sliwa 2014; Kelan 2010; Lafferty and Fleming 2000; Lee and Won 2014; Peterson 2015; Savigny 2014; Thompson 2015). However, the vast majority of these focus almost exclusively on the people who occupy the upper echelons of the academic workforce. It is clear how to demarcate this group; senior management is a less ambiguous group to understand than ‘early career’.

In the initial stages of conceptualising this book we thought long and hard about how we understood the term ‘early career academic’. After much discussion between ourselves and our colleagues, we defined early career academics as those who are within five years of having been awarded their PhD. The term ‘early career’, however, is contested in HE and is laden with politics, particularly in the current neoliberal era of university management. ‘Early-career academic’ is a cumbersome title with particular expectations attached to it, but often little benefit or prestige. Indeed, ‘early career’ is often associated with a heavy teaching workload, no successful grant reputation, a myriad of obscure administrative roles, and a lack of job security. Although we tie the term ‘early career’ to the achievement and award of the PhD, we recognise that there are many academics who have been working in HE for many years prior to completing a doctorate, and numerous more who do not and will not study for a PhD, but are still academics. Thus the term ‘early career’ is also not tied to a specific age bracket, as one of our contributors will discuss, nor even necessarily to the award of the PhD, as doctoral students are increasingly encouraged to professionalise themselves and take on some of the tasks of faculty. We are interested in how the award of the PhD and subsequent transition to academic employment for newly qualified feminist academics plays out and are experienced by individuals in the context of the marketised university.

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