'Content to be sad' or 'runaway apprentice'? The psychological contract and careers of young scientists in the entrepreneurial university

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The rise of academic entrepreneurialism with its emphasis on industrial engagement is reshaping the ‘master-apprentice’ relationship between professors and young scientists. This study uses the lens of social exchange to examine this relationship, and how it affects young scientists’ psychological contracts and how they adapt their careers in consequence. The study distinguishes two categories of industrial engagement, collaborative research and commercial ventures, with the former governed by ‘relational’ and the latter, ‘transactional’ exchange. A novel finding is the divergent responses of young scientists to unmet career expectations. Those engaged in collaborative research responded by extended investment in their current jobs. They are ‘trapped postdocs’ in perennial temporary employment: ‘content to be sad’. By contrast, those involved in commercialization responded by career crafting. They are ‘runaway apprentices’ who seek autonomy by developing their own entrepreneurial careers. The entrepreneurial university hinders the upward mobility of young scientists but it also offers them scope to redefine their
work and careers. The study contributes to the psychological contract literature by highlighting the agency role of young scientists in shaping their own careers. The evidence is based on individual interviews with 24 doctoral students/post-docs and 16 professors from three leading UK research universities.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Academic scientists, careers, entrepreneurial university, psychological contract, social exchange

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