The Research Project and Academic Careers

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:30 AM
Room: 414
Distributed Paper
Cristina BESIO , Technical University of Berlin, Germany
This contribution analyzes “researchers” as an important type of knowledge workers. We focus on the “research project” as a widespread form of financing and coordinating research activities not only in the natural sciences, but also in the social sciences and even in the humanities. The institutionalization of project work transforms the practice of research, which no longer takes place as a “freely roaming” activity guided by the interests of the scientists, but as a sequence of clearly defined tasks delineated by deadlines and milestones.

In this context, one may ask: Do projects change academic careers as well? The hypothesis is that they are relevant in different respects:

1. Projects require new competences. As projects should be carefully planned and monitored, researchers must be able to behave as managers. Moreover, in order to obtain project grants and to communicate results, it is necessary to have the ability of translating complex findings into convincing statements.

2. Projects also influence scientific reputation, which no longer relies exclusively on publications, but also on project funds obtained.

3. At the beginning of academic careers, projects provide more people the chance to engage in research activities and be socialized in science practices in an early phase. Later on, projects allow more experienced researchers to obtain funds to engage in autonomous research on specific issues.

4. Since project planning and financing require time, the number of academic positions with managerial and administrative tasks increase in both universities and funding organizations.

Under certain circumstances, project work opens up new opportunities and scientists become an autonomous “self-entrepreneurial” workforce. In other cases, researchers experience these new arrangements as a burden. We analyze in particular how projects affect women’s careers.