This article discusses three kinds of mobility among early stage researchers: geographical mobility, mobility between disciplines – or interdisciplinarity – and cross-sectoral mobility. It focuses on how PhD fellows engage with and negotiate experiences of mobility. These types of mobility have largely been presented as inherently beneficial in mainstream policy discourse, but this article presents a more nuanced picture of mobility, showing the challenges of mobility, as experienced and articulated by PhD fellows and some of their supervisors. The research is based on twenty-six interviews with PhD fellows and principal investigators involved in two types of flagship doctoral programmes: the ITN in Europe, and the IGERT in the United States. The main finding is that PhD fellows associated all three types of mobility with feelings of homelessness.
The uprooted lives of early career researchers
A decade of shifting roles for the PhD student
Mobility in doctoral education – and beyond
Corina Balaban and Susan Wright
This special issue emerged as a result of Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE), a four-year collaborative research project and training programme for early-stage researchers that investigated the dynamic relationships between universities and knowledge economies in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific Rim. The project was funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission (EC) and included researchers based at six different universities in five European countries. Mobility was not only a widespread research interest within the UNIKE academic community but also a reality of the project, which was in itself a practical example of mobility in doctoral education, as envisaged by the European Commission. Many questions emerged as to how mobility became so central to the European Union’s policies for higher education, but also as to how the portrayal of mobility on a policy level compared to the actual lived experiences of mobile students and researchers. ‘Mobility’ can refer to many different things: geographical mobility, social mobility, cross-sectoral mobility or intellectual mobility (interdisciplinarity). The academic literature mostly treats them separately, with clusters of studies around each concept. In contrast, this special issue sets out to investigate these different types of mobility collectively, with authors covering several parts or the whole spectrum of mobilities. We believe it is valuable to discuss these four different aspects of mobility together for two reasons. First, they are often mentioned together in higher education policy as ‘desirable’ characteristics of a given education programme. Second, the ideal profile of the new, flexible knowledge worker supposedly combines all these aspects of mobility in one persona. The policy literature produced by influential stakeholders in higher education such as the European Commission and the OECD focuses on how to encourage, foster and support different kinds of mobility, working on the assumption that mobility is inherently good and will benefit countries, higher education systems and individuals. Much of the academic literature has adopted a similar approach, focusing on ways to enable mobility rather than challenge it.