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The experiences of research fellows seeking independence in multiple communities of practice

Christos Petichakis (Academic Development, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Eli Saetnan (Academic Development, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Lynn Clark (Academic Partnerships, University of Bolton, Bolton, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 25 June 2019




The purpose of this study is to examine the lived experiences of current or recent research fellows holding a prestigious research fellowship, and are based in a research-intensive university in the UK. The authors of this study explored the challenges and opportunities that come with the transition of these individuals from a postdoctoral position to a fellowship.


Using a qualitative research method and through semi-structured interviews with a purposively selected sample, this research attempts to interpret the lived experiences of four research fellows by making sense of their narratives and reflections on their roles through their career development and the pursuit of research independence in their field.


Three themes were identified following the analysis of the data collected, namely, the freedom to explore, managing relationships and serendipity. The emphasis on achieving research independence, with the first signs of independence appearing from their postdoctoral years, was stated as an important factor in the career development of the research fellow. Gaining legitimacy and membership to multiple communities of practice simultaneously appeared to be a productive yet challenging developmental experience.


While attention in recently published output has been given to the professional development of research students and postdoctoral staff, exploring the views of research fellows remains an under-researched area in the field of researcher development. This qualitative study aims to start a discussion by exploring the lived experiences of this select group as they explain their identity-trajectory in research and pursue their aspirations towards achieving an academic post.



Petichakis, C., Saetnan, E. and Clark, L. (2019), "The experiences of research fellows seeking independence in multiple communities of practice", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 126-141.



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