Doctoral scientists’ identities in a changing policy landscape

Speaker: Dr Sally Hancock # University of Edinburgh

7th Oct 2013

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


This seminar explores the changing landscape of contemporary science, and its implications for doctoral scientists in the UK.

I suggest that recent policy reforms promote the ‘knowledge economy’ view of science, which places the creation and application of scientific knowledge at the centre of future economic growth. Within this vision, doctoral scientists represent high-value human capital who - knowledge economy stakeholders hope - will graduate to assume lucrative knowledge-intensive work, predominantly in the private sector. The knowledge economy account of science is therefore in part a normative construct: the product of assumptions about the compliant neoliberal subject and capitalist values (Fuller, 2003; Rikowski, 2003).

I explore doctoral scientists’ awareness of the knowledge economy, and question how it relates to their scientific values. Contrary to the common depiction of the scientist as an ‘amoral nerd’ (Pinker, 2008), five positions emerge across the population of doctoral scientists, revealing distinct moral views on science, and its relationship with politics, economics and society. Doctoral scientists construct scientific identities consistent to their moral values, which inform their decisions as research students and steer their future career plans. Despite the obvious value differences between the identities, all doctoral scientists subscribe to the view that identity is solid and stable; consciously or not, they aspire to a traditional notion of scientific identity, commensurate with the paradigm of modernity.

In the final part of the seminar, I consider the extent to which doctoral scientists’ identities are suited to contemporary science and society - contexts that I argue are best characterised as ‘post’ or ‘liquid’ modern. In consequence, I propose that doctoral scientists ought to be encouraged to cultivate liquid scientific identities, which will better enable them to avoid fixation and keep the options open (Bauman, 1995).


Speaker Biography

Sally Hancock works with the Physics Education Research group on the Fostering Learning Improvements in Physics (FLIP) project, which is funded by ESRC and the Institute of Physics. She received her PhD from Imperial College London in 2012.


For more information, please contact Alyson Macdonald (tel. 0131 650 9113).