Becoming a PI: From ‘doing’ to ‘managing’ research

. Teaching in Higher Education (November 2015)


While achieving research independence by becoming a principal investigator (PI) is a key aspiration for many postdocs, little is known of the trajectory from PhD graduation to first PI grant. This interview-based study examined how 16 PIs in science, technology engineering, mathematics or medicine, in the UK and continental Europe, prepared for and dealt with this career transition. Individuals demonstrated commitment to lengthy periods of postdoctoral work in a range of institutions (often involving international mobility) to achieve PI-status. Their emotionally laden journeys required resilience and self-belief, since getting a grant was conceived as partly luck. Once individuals had their grant they faced new challenges that distanced them from actively researching. Still, individuals navigated their intentions in a sustained fashion to create a distinct intellectual profile in the face of challenging circumstances. The results highlight the centrality of emotion in the journey, as well as curricular imperatives for both doctoral and postdoctoral learning.

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