Secondary analysis of Career Breaks Survey: early career academics, post-doc hell - rhetoric or reality

The study will involve secondary analysis of a sub-set of data from a global survey on career breaks, conducted by, and Research Media with over 5,000 academics around the world. The sub-set of survey data utilised for this study explores the perceptions, implications and experiences of early career academics, who were forced to take a career break due to redundancy,the end of a fixed term contract or the end of their PhD.

Department: NCBE

Supervised by: Dr Karen Jones

The Placement Project

This project involves secondary analyses of survey data to explore the perceptions, implications and experiences of early career academics taking a career break due to redundancy/end of fixed term contract/end of PhD. It draws on a subset of data from a survey of 5,000 academics from around the world which sought to provide much needed insight into the impact of career breaks, taken for a wide range of reasons, for academics and those who support academics. This sought to explore the motivations, challenges, opportunities and both the perceived and real implications of academic career breaks. The goal was to provide academics and their employers with more information based on real-life experiences to help inform personal decisions and enable universities to better prepare for career breaks and provide the support their employees need to relaunch their career when they return. Some of the questions this study sought to answer include: • What are the main reasons for academics taking a career break? • What factors prevent academics from taking a career break? • What is the perceived impact of an academic career break on professional life? • How satisfied are academics with the level of support provided by their employers during and after their career break? • What career paths do academics take when they return from a career break? A preliminary report on the findings of study can be found here: Following this report, Dr Karen Jones, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Management is working with to provide further in-depth analyses of different subsets of data within the survey. This project provides an opportunity for a student to work on new study, focusing on a subset of the 2015 career breaks survey with early career academics taking a career break because of redundancy/end of contract/end of PhD. As noted, the study will provide much needed insight into the reality and challenges of developing an academic career. It will examine the so called post-doc hell that many early career researchers experience when their contract or PhD/study period ends. For those with no progression opportunities, a career break is often the only option.


The successful applicant will undertake the following tasks:- review extant literature on the career challenges of an academic career, and related areas concerned with job uncertainty, permanence, temporariness and work patterns; undertake training in the use of SPSS, propose a series of tests to analyse survey data in SPSS. The student will conduct the analysis. The student will also receive training in qualitative data analysis techniques and will have the opportunity to contribute to the analysis of qualitative data. Thus, the project will enable the student to gain key experience in designing and executing research project aims, methods and recording techniques. In addition, the student will also be involved in the organisation and storage of data as well as the preparation of data for analysis. The student will work closely with the project supervisor - Dr Karen Jones, who will always be available for support. They will also meet regularly and the student will receive mentoring and support from Dr Karen Jones, as well as other members of staff with expertise in specific areas. The placement will be varied, with the majority of time taken up by preparation for data analysis and running the analysis. Across the project it is expected that on average 60% of the time will be spent conducting data analysis, 20% of the time will be spent on training and mentoring support and a further 20% reviewing the extant literature.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student is expected to have a background in one of the following: educational leadership, management, human resources. Students with interests in related areas, such as sociology, psychology and economics will also be considered. The student will need to have basic statistics skills and knowledge. It is desirable that the student has experience of using SPSS, however, training will be given so students who demonstrate an aptitude and enthusiasm to learn SPSS will be considered.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

Through the placement, the student will gain specific skills in academic research. The student will be offered training courses in SPSS and mentoring in qualitative data analysis techniques. There will be lots of opportunities to take part in research meetings. The student will gain key transferable skills, in the following areas:- • team work: ability to interact effectively with academic staff; to challenge opinion where needed, recognise, support or be proactive in a professional capacity; • research: ability to select and manage information, competently undertake reasonably straight-forward research tasks with minimum guidance and more complex research tasks with supervision; • autonomy: responsibility for own work and ability to critique it; • communications: communicate in a professional manner and produce coherent written work; • problem solving: ability to identify and define complex research problems and apply appropriate knowledge, skills and approaches to reach a solution.

Place of Work

Institute of Education, University of Reading

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 03 July 2017 - Friday 11 August 2017

How to Apply

CV and covering email/letter to Dr Karen Jones

Return to Placements List

Page navigation

Search Form