The EINST4INE network recently all met in Germany for our ‘Enabling Technologies Workshop’ hosted by the ENI team at the University of Stuttgart. As I reach the end of my second year of doctoral studies, I find myself mulling over career options post-PhD. The final session of this workshop gave us the opportunity to hear from highly successful academics (thank you to our energetic and passionate guest Christina Theodoraki for candidly sharing her career journey) and a safe space to ask many pending academic career questions to our experienced seniors. Here are some of my key takeaways and reflections:

A career in academia can be scary…

Firstly, I often already get asked “what do you actually do?” or “when you are getting a real job? Are you going to be a student forever?” to which I often laugh and even agree. If I can’t even explain what I do, how do I expect anyone to understand it? Perhaps I am on a path of being an eternal student, so what ‘value’ does that bring to the ‘real world’? This is difficult to justify. For some entertaining consolement on this issue, you can read De Vaujany’s (2016) expression of trying to answer what a management researcher does at a dinner party.

Secondly, even if you have figured out how to articulate what you do, you also have to believe it yourself. Many people in general suffer from imposter syndrome, but especially so in academia where we are trying to push the boundaries of knowledge, experiencing feelings of self-doubt regarding our intellect and abilities which is very challenging to overcome. Bothello and Roulet (2019) wrote a provoking essay in Journal of Management Studies, which outlines imposter syndrome in academic life, particularly for PhD students considering a career in management academia, that I recommend anyone in this position to read.

Thirdly, I am sure anyone reading this is familiar with the “publish or perish” culture. Particularly as a PhD student, even more so if publishing is a requirement of your PhD, this culture can feel overwhelming. Not only are we expected to publish, but to publish in highly ranked journals that can take years to develop, in order to advance one’s career. Even once you manage it, you’re then expected to do it more. Working in academia, you can easily fall victim to defining your worth through your h-index or publication output which seldom has positive outcomes, particularly for your mental health.

But it can also be exciting…

Firstly, as scientists, it is our job and our privilege to understand how the world works. Prompted by some wisdom from Calogero Oddo, us junior researchers realised that instead of talking about what we have done, we should perhaps focus on the how and the why. For a number of reasons, we tend to make a habit of reporting the quantitative metrics and measures e.g., I published in X journal, I attended Y conferences, as opposed to reporting on the science we are creating – those valuable insights that will help to push our field(s). I feel like sometimes I forget that I am working in such an exciting domain, and while I am not inventing any breakthrough concept, I am contributing knowledge and understanding to our collective discoveries.

Secondly, while I often get frustrated with the focus on pushing out publications rather than a focus on slow exploration and deep learning, reflecting with peers in industry and often those that completed a PhD themselves, it seems I can still be grateful that in academia we are spending time on questioning the why rather than pushing on with how and doing (sometimes before thinking). Both are vital, but it seems for those with curious minds then academia allows you to play and explore and question which is a wonderful thing.

Thirdly, since this line of work often includes international collaboration with a broad range of people (other scholars, organisations, institutions) we have so many exciting opportunities to explore the world to help understand it and ourselves. It might not be for everyone, and I am also acutely aware of the privileges in the ability to travel and attend conferences both personally and institutionally, but typically a career in academia opens you up to many experiences abroad whether it be through travel or through your colleagues and their diverse backgrounds.

Becoming a researcher or a scholar

A reflective moment I had as a result of some conversations during this workshop was that the terms “researcher” and “scholar” are often used interchangeably, but they can have slightly different connotations. A researcher is primarily focused on the systematic investigation of questions, problems, or phenomena to generate new knowledge, while a scholar is someone deeply engaged in the broader intellectual life of a field, which may include research, teaching, writing, and contributing to the academic community. While you can be both a researcher and a scholar, it is perhaps not often that you have the opportunity to be “scholarly” when you are working outside of academia.

Bottom line – you can make it your own and there are always choices.

There are many different pathways in an academic career, which even differentiates further depending on the country and institution you are based at. In light of this, in the final years of my PhD I will try to focus on:

  • Engaging with different types of scholars and researchers to uncover the more ‘unknown’ or less obvious pathways,
  • Understand what is meaningful to me without all the external pressures, topic hype, and noise,
  • Determine what is realistic for me and which sacrifices I am willing to take or not take (which may look very different to others),
  • Reflect on what my definition of success is,
  • And consider what kind of impact I would like to make (on myself, colleagues, project partners, and even society more generally).


Bothello, J., & Roulet, T. J. (2019). The imposter syndrome, or the mis-representation of self in academic life. Journal of Management Studies, 56(4), 854-861.

de Vaujany, F.-X. (2016). ‘The dinner: How can we explain management research just before dessert?’. Management, 19, 330–334.

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