Call for Papers: Special Issue of Soziale Welt on Career Paths Inside and Outside Academia

Special Issue of the journal Soziale Welt on
“Career Paths Inside and Outside Academia”

Guest editors: Christiane Gross and Steffen Jaksztat

The special issue aims to understand the social mechanisms of career decisions, chances, and paths of higher education graduates inside and outside academia. From a cross-cultural perspective, there is a huge variation of typical career paths both inside and outside academia. While most English-speaking countries provide tenured positions in academia beyond the professorship series (assistant, associate, full professor) – e.g. lecturer – the academic labour market in German-speaking countries is characterised by precarious working conditions and a declining proportion of full or associate professorships and other permanent researcher positions. However, conditions in academia are changing in most developed countries. Differentiation and stratification, as well as competition for resources, and evaluation of achievements are increasing among institutions of higher education.

More than in other areas of society, meritocratic principles are a functional imperative of the career system in academia. Robert K. Merton has described this norm as ‘universalism’; the recognition of academic achievements can only depend on objective performance criteria – regardless of social characteristics such as gender, social origin, or ethnicity. Although academia has established a variety of measures to ensure compliance with this principle, social inequalities remain an issue, for example with regard to promoting early career researchers or recruiting professors. More empirical research is needed to explore the social mechanisms underlying social inequalities in access to postgraduate education as well as inequalities in subsequent academic careers.

As research careers within academia become increasingly competitive, the demand for scientifically trained staff outside academia is high and likely to continue to grow in the future. A large number of doctorate holders work outside academia – in the public service, in company research and development departments, or in non-governmental organisations. Moreover, career paths in science management, administration, and services become increasingly relevant for doctorate holders. In general, the scientific workforce is recognised as a key factor in the ability of modern economies to innovate, and in the ability of societies to solve future problems. At present, its great societal relevance is clearly demonstrated by the global Covid-19 crisis. Yet there is still insufficient knowledge on doctorate holders’ career paths and success outside academia, on the relevant decision-making processes, on job requirements, and on potential social barriers to career success.

Fortunately, various research projects have recently helped to improve data availability. In
light of this situation, a number of questions arise:

  • Who decides to stay in academia following graduation and why? What are the prerequisites for successfully completing postgraduate education?
  • Is academia producing more highly qualified researchers than can be absorbed by the labour market?
  • Are career decisions and chances determined by social origin, gender, migration background, or intersections of these dimensions? And what role do new career paths (e.g. tenure-track positions) play in this context?
  • Which countries provide the most meritocratic (academic) labour markets? And what are the driving forces?
  • What achievements are particularly rewarded inside and outside academia (e.g. publications, international mobility experiences, raised research funds, or patents)?
  • Are there discipline-specific determinants of career success? And if so, how can they be explained theoretically?
  • Are cooperation patterns in science changing? Does cooperation foster new ideas and innovations? Do scientists benefit from being part of interdisciplinary, international, or non-scientific professional networks?
  • What are the mobility patterns between the different labour market sectors?
  • To what degree are tasks in jobs outside academia related to the skills acquired during the studies and/or the doctorate?

Contributions that examine other than these research questions, but are still related to the topic, are also welcome. The special issue will include both theoretical and theory-driven empirical contributions. We encourage international and national contributions from all social science disciplines. The special issue will be published with open access and no OA fees for authors. The publication will be listed in the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI). The guest editors will conduct a fair but challenging peer-review process to guarantee the high quality of the special issue.

Deadline for the submission of proposals is May 31, 2021. Please send your proposal (up to 3,000 characters) to and


  • Notification of acceptance or rejection of proposals: July 2021
  • Submission of manuscripts: Feb 2022
  • Peer-review process: Mar-May 2022
  • Submission of revised manuscripts: Oct 2022
  • Notification of final acceptance or rejection: Nov 2022
  • Language editing/proofreading: Dec 2022
  • Publication of special issue: First half of 2023

The guest editors

Prof. Dr. Christiane Gross is professor for quantitative methods in the social sciences at the University of Würzburg.

Dr. Steffen Jaksztat is researcher at the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW).

Click here for information on the journal.

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