What does it take to become the ideal academic in our time? In REBOUND we investigate what types of researchers aspire to, and are evaluated as best qualified for, top positions in academia. We also investigate potential consequences for gender equality and diversity. A central feature of the research and higher education sector today is increasing internationalization and competition. Demands for publications in high-ranking international journals, mobility, securing external grants, are trends that provide particular conditions for the recruitment and evaluation of competence. The aim of this project is to investigate these conditions and identify the consequences they may have for equality and diversity in academia.
Empirically, we study the relevant equality policies, research policies and organizational structures in order to broaden our understanding of the current conditions for academic careers. Moreover, we study how these conditions are implemented in the higher education institutions and how they are understood and practiced by gatekeepers and academics themselves. The project is made up of two main parts that together shed light on the relationship between research policy and academic careers.
Part one focuses on how equality policy is integrated into research policy and what explains national variation in the share of women in top academic positions. In 2021, we have concentrated on the following activities:
- Based on 30 research policy documents from Norway and the EU (2015-2020), we analyze to what extent and how gender equality and diversity are integrated in the documents. We are particularly interested in how the equality oriented research policy documents identify and try to tackle competing interests. Preliminary analyses suggest that challenges identified in the research literature, rarely appear in these documents. Going forward, we will analyze what type of problem gender balance is identified as in the research political documents. What are the explicit descriptions of the problem and what is assumed or silent in the texts?
- In 2021, we have worked on building a comparative dataset to analyze how the differences in the share of female professors across countries vary with differences in conditions for academic careers. We have collected data from various sources about career patterns in acdademia, STEM-orientation, labor market conditions inside and outside academia, and welfare policies.
Part two focuses on how quality and competence is evaluated in recruitment for academic top positions, and how academics themselves adjust to the current conditions for successful academic careers. In 2021, we have concentrated on the following questions and activities:
- How do gatekeepers in academia define quality? What criteria do they use to define excellence and how do they go about finding the best candidate? We studied 48 hiring processes for associate and full professor positions in History, Political Science and Biology. We find that gatekeepers are attuned to questions of equality and diversity in the first stage of the hiring process, which is crucial in order to get a diverse pool of applicants. At the same time, we see that questions of equality and diversity are sidelined in the decisive stages of the hiring process where the candidates are evaluated and ranked. Results from this study are available in a research article available for download here: https://doi.org/10.1177/00380385211028064
- What research profiles and ideals are valued in today?s academic system? How do young academics adapt to or reject these ideals? We have interviewed 61 young academics with PhDs in History, Political Science and Biology. We are currently working on coding and analyzing this material.
- What characterizes the research production and career patterns of academics who succeed in reaching a top position in Norwegian and Danish universities? Through collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, we are working on collecting data and coding career mobility and research production among those who received a doctoral degree in the period 2010-2014 and academic staff in the period 2017-2021 in History and Political Science in Norway and Denmark.
REBOUND is of particular relevance for policy makers and organizations working on gender equality and diversity and research policy. The project results are also important for academic institutions and research collectives that are working towards equality and diversity within their own institutions. In 2021 findings from the project have been disseminated through participation in webinars with stakeholders within academic institutions, interviews and op-eds in publications such as Khrono and kifinfo.no, and participation in international conferences.
In this project we investigate the impact of recent trends toward internationalization and excellence in Norwegian and international research policies, on recruitment and self-selection in Norwegian academia. A main question is how gatekeepers within academic institutions, and aspiring academics, adapt and respond to an occupational landscape that is increasingly international and competitive. Our focus will be on the dynamics of gender, but studied through an intersectional lens, where national/ethnic origin, age, and family, emerge as key intersecting dimensions. Who does the system work for, and who falls through?
We propose to use this research funding opportunity to ask questions that go beyond the individual institutional setting in order to advance our understanding of the interplay and possible conflict between research policy and equality policy, and how these contribute to diversify or homogenize Norwegian academic institutions. Against this backdrop, a pressing question is what kinds of academics are recruited within the current research political context, and who are the institutions able to attract? How do gatekeepers and potential candidates interpret, and act on, the current research political signals? Moreover, how does the institutional implementation of research political goals affect the development of diverse research perspectives and approaches?
We will use state of the art theories and methods from various social sciences to advance our understanding of the problem, predominantly sociology, political science, and gender studies. The research team consists of interdisciplinary social scientists at the Institute for Social Research (ISF), in collaboration with Aarhus University and several stakeholders, drawing a wider network of experts.