Catalysts in career transitions: Academic researchers transitioning into sustainable careers in data science

Mayra Ruiz Castro, Beatrice van der Heijden, Emma Henderson

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Academic careers are becoming less linear and secure, and are increasingly shaped by environmental constraints. As a result, highly qualified early and mid-career researchers, in particular from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, are pursuing careers outside academia. This paper advances theory and empirical research on career transitions and sustainable careers by investigating how junior academics transition into the field of data science by exploring the facilitators of their career transition and the ways in which they experience career sustainability in their new occupational field. This study relies on 28 in-depth interviews with early and mid-career STEM researchers from elite universities who decided to join a data science “bootcamp” to pursue a new career as data scientists. Our study reveals the career barriers that junior researchers experience in academia and how career catalysts increase their career adaptability, facilitating a career transition into sustainable careers in data science. Our study shows that career sustainability is experienced through the reaffirmation of interviewees’ identity as researchers outside of academia as well as in the reconciliation between their previous career expectations and actual career outcomes after transitioning into data science.

© 2020, Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.. The attached document (embargoed until 24/08/2023) is an author produced version of a paper published in JOURNAL OF VOCATIONAL BEHAVIOR uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103479
Early online date24 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2020


  • Career transitions
  • Sustainable careers
  • Academic careers
  • (Big) data science
  • career adaptability

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