“Assistant Professor with an Asterisk”: Conflicting Tensions in the Workplace Experiences and Professional Identities of University Faculty on Fixed-Term Contracts
Abstract: Drawing on identity work theory and social capital theory, this qualitative study explores how Canadian university faculty on fixed-term contracts construct their professional identities in response to the opportunities and limitations associated with their employment. Study participants generally appreciate their remuneration, relative professional autonomy, the control they have over the products of their labour, and the opportunity to teach at the postsecondary level. Positive aspects of their employment, however, were undercut by various professional limitations. These limitations include job precarity, little acknowledgment of their contributions to their fields or to their universities, limited access to research funding, and the challenge of building bonding (i.e., intra-institutional) social capital. The perceived disconnect between participants’ professional qualifications and the precarity of their employment situation further undermines their ability to cultivate positive professional identities. Participants negotiate the contradictory tensions of their employment via one or more of the following adaptive strategies: 1) pursuing research as best they can given prevailing obstacles; 2) making teaching the focal point of their professional identities; and 3) utilizing bridging social capital to create opportunities and forge connections beyond the university. Future research directions are discussed.
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