Exploring the Transition to Becoming an Academic: A Comparative Study of Australian Academics With and Without a Doctorate
Keywords:Transition, academic practice, identity, professional socialization, Australian academics, professional practice, staff development,
Staff taking up their first academic position come from a range of backgrounds. One key distinction on entry is whether the individual already has a doctorate or attains one later. The transition experiences of staff taking up their first full-time academic position and the effect of entry pathway are under reported. This study aimed to explore these transitions (n=24) and determine whether background influences the experience. Participants were grouped as either with a doctorate (D) or with no doctorate but extensive professional practice experience (ND) at the time of their first full-time academic appointment. Semi-structured interviews by purposive sampling at four Australian universities – regional (n=2), Group of Eight (Go8), research intensive universities (n=1), metropolitan non-Go8 (n=1) – were undertaken. Transcripts were confirmed by participants for accuracy. Manual content analysis was conducted by two independent researchers, followed by Leximancer© software analysis. Findings were grouped into similarities and differences between the two groups. Similarities exist for staff at the point of entry regardless of background and when they entered academia. Key similarities were the pressure of time, feeling overwhelmed and managing the competing demands of the position. Differences exist in the way pressure is felt as a result of the participants’ background. Those from the no doctorate group found a tension between keeping their professional ties and attaining a doctorate while still keeping up with teaching. The group with a doctorate found a greater tension between initiating their research careers and managing their teaching. Staff development premised on the strengths of new staff rather than on their deficits may provide a more positive and supportive model. Staff development models that enhance resources help to buffer demands, thereby creating a more productive and satisfied work environment.
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