Career Policy & Paths in Science

The working group Career Policy & Paths in Science (CPPS) studies human resources in research. Our research focuses on the career system in place and its effects on scientists’ careers. In our studies we will use different research methods such as mathematical modelling, bibliometric analysis, questionnaires and in-depth interviews.


The availability of a critical mass of well-grounded researchers is a key factor in the advancement of scientific knowledge and technological progress.

As the academic career opportunities are by far outnumbered by young researchers who hope to establish an academic career, there is a strong competition among researchers. Only a small part of the academic staff, mainly full professors, has tenure. The large majority, e.g., postdocs and assistant professors, rely heavily on external funding and hold a temporary position without real opportunity of permanent employment. In conclusion, long selection periods and small initial chances of achieving a successful lifelong career characterize the current academic career system.

In the CPPS working group we study the development of the career system and its implications for the careers of scientists (both early, mid and late career). Special attention will be given to the academic gender balance. Gender quotas in evaluation and hiring committees, talent programmes for female scientists and fellowships to award promising female researchers to further develop their research (line) are examples of strategies to promote women in science. Gender questions will be studied in most research projects. In our studies we will use different research methods such as mathematical modelling, bibliometric analysis, questionnaires and in-depth interviews.

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Personal grants and career paths: a cohort study of Dutch life science & health researchers

As academic career opportunities are dependent on research funding to a growing extent, grant selection outcomes are expected to have an important impact on the careers and motivation of early career researchers. We study the careers paths of Life Sciences & Health researchers who received a prestigious personal research grant in 2007. These grants are awarded to creative and talented early career researchers to give them the opportunity to conduct their own research. We assume that in this way they gain entry to or promotion within institutions conducting academic research in the Netherlands. But what are the implications of this performance-based funding system on the academic careers of these Life Science scientists? First, we mapped the career trajectories of the grantees. Second, we conduct open interviews. In the interviews we focus on individual motivation for career steps, the effect of mentorship and career breaks, as well as on future career plans, including their opinion of successful scientific work. First results show that most grantees continue their career at the same university or University Medical Center. We also study gender differences.

Careers of doctorate holders

In the Netherlands, empirical knowledge about the employment status, career path development and career choices of doctoral graduates is limited. From 1990 to 2010 the number of thesis defenses in the Netherlands almost doubled from 1898 to 3736. At the same time the career opportunities in Dutch academia are insecure, with many temporary contracts and few positions available once PhD holders advance on the career ladder. In 2008 and 2009 an exploratory study was conducted to provide an overview of the initial employment outcomes of recent PhD recipients in the Netherlands (n = 565). 86% of doctoral recipients in this survey were employed at the moment of the defense. 63% of all respondents were employed in academia, of which 51% were in the Netherlands and 12% abroad. Most graduates have a temporary position. The majority (66%) of the doctoral recipients are primarily concerned with research in their jobs. In our presented study of 2013 the same respondents will be asked to participate in a follow-up survey, in which they will be asked about their career choices and the added value of a PhD in their careers. By reporting the career development of PhD holders who finished their PhD four to five years ago, this research will contribute to increase our knowledge of career paths of PhD holders, their considerations regarding their careers and the value of the PhD on the current labor market.

The Motivation of Young scientists

The aim of this study is to understand what drives young scientists to pursue a career in academia, either as a PhD candidate or a postdoctoral researcher. Not only in the Netherlands, but in many countries the number of PhD holders vastly outnumber the available academic positions open to them. Between 1998 and 2008 for example, the number of science doctorates awarded each year grew nearly 40%. Taking this situation into account, what drives young scientists to take the plunge into the insecure and sometimes non-transparent world of academia? Young scientists will be the new generation of researchers and group leaders, and therefore attention to their career and their own motivation for pursuing an academic career is important. If we can understand what motivates them, it can tell us something about how we can attract the right people for an academic career. Furthermore, we explore how factors surrounding young scientists in their academic environment could have a possible influence on their motivation. More specifically, we focus on three external factors. First, the role of their supervisor, both as the person supervising their scientific progress, and also as a mentor. Second, the research group surrounding the young scientist; what relationship does the young scientist have with his or her direct colleagues, and how can the culture within this group be characterized? Third, institutionalized career guidance; Dutch universities and university medical centers (UMCs) are taking career guidance for their employees more and more seriously. Is this reflected in the motivation of young scientists? We interviewed 17 young scientists employed at a UMC in the Netherlands.

Academic Leadership

  • Gender differences in academic leadership of research group leaders

There is general agreement that we need more women in science. In the Netherlands, programmes, guidelines and recommendations are developed and have led to improvements, although the process is going slowly. Little is known about those female scientists who have entered the science system. Are there –still any?- gender differences in academic leadership and motivation of scientists? To answer this question we conducted a questionnaire study among starting male and female leaders in the Netherlands.

  • How do young tenured professors benefit from a mentor? Effects on management, motivation and performance

Do young tenured professors who receive mentorship differ from those without mentorship in motivation, scholarly performance, and group management practice? We conducted a survey among research group leaders in the biomedical and health sciences in the Netherlands, to study – among other things - the effects of mentorship. Our results show that young professors who receive mentorship on average have a more positive view of their work environment, are better at managing their research, and have a somewhat faster career. Furthermore, young professors with a mentor on average perform better in terms of grants, publications and number of received citations. These findings indicate that it is important for universities to actively organize mentorship programs for young senior staff.


For more information about the CPPS working group, please contact Inge van der Weijden (working group leader) at


Inge van der Weijden

Researcher and coordinator of the Career Policy & Paths in Science (CPPS) working group. Inge conducts research on the motivation, selection, and evaluation of scholars in order to better understand career development of scientists. She is responsible for the CWTS press communication.

Cornelis van Bochove

Emeritus professor of Science Policy Studies. Cornelis focuses on the impact of various types of research and development activities on economic growth and on the career system in research.

Rodrigo Costas

Researcher. Rodrigo's research focuses mostly on the development and application of new bibliometric tools and the new field of 'altmetrics'.

Evan de Gelder

Research assistant to Inge van der Weijden in the working group CPPS. Evan's research focuses on career paths of young scientists and their job perspectives outside academia, in order to make recommendations for young scientists, universities and companies.

Julia Heuritsch

Researcher. Julia’s research focusses on the analysis of the subsequent careers of PhD holders.

Ingeborg Meijer

Researcher and coordinator of the Society Using Research (SURe) working group. Ingeborg focuses on the development of proxies, tools, and indicators to assess the uses of research in society; in public, professional, and private domains.

Zohreh Zahedi

PhD candidate. Zohreh is doing research on altmetrics (alternative metrics and tools) and investigating potential of using altmetrics for measuring research performance.

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