Cecelia Dotzler, PhD Organizational Psychology (current), Claremont Graduate University

This qualitative study investigates the experience of job crafting among the STEM postdoctoral scholar population. Job crafting can be used as an intervention to aid in macro career transitions such as the ones experienced by postdocs. It can also support worker’s micro transitions in terms of boundary management between work and life, which can be stressful to manage without proper resources. Additionally, the postdoc position is not thoroughly designed in terms of having set and objective job demands and resources. The postdoctoral scholar must learn to balance the research demands of the lab with their own career planning. Job crafting can be used to link the external demands of the role to the postdoc’s personal and perceived job demands and resources. As such, studying postdocs can provide insights on how to utilize job crafting for fitting the design of a role to the perceived experience of a role.

Postdoctoral scholars (postdocs) are temporary researchers who have completed their doctoral study and are engaged in advanced training and mentorship to further prepare them for an academic or industry career (O’Grady & Beam, 2011). Postdocs produce a significant amount of research in all fields, yet they face a plethora of organizational and interpersonal wellbeing challenges and stressors as they prepare to transition to their next career step as researchers in academia (Gibbs et al., 2015), industry, or elsewhere. Two key issues that postdocs face include the growing number of postdoctoral positions coupled with a stagnant demand for faculty, which leads to job insecurity and stress; and the lack of direction, resources and support from the organizations that employ them with many postdocs trapped in this stressful transition period of their careers (Davis, 2009). Job crafting entails a person or employee shaping or “crafting” their professional role to incorporate their strengths, their general life interests, and their development into their existing role to create a better fit to the role (Kuijpers, 2019). Job crafting has been tied to greater work engagement and motivation, which in turn has been shown to lead to greater wellbeing (Tims, Bakker, & Derks, 2013). Given the lack of postdoc job design and the need to better support postdocs career development, job crafting may be a useful and powerful method for bolstering the wellbeing of those in the postdoc role. Job crafting allow employees to foster their strengths, interests, and development to experience more meaning, engagement, wellbeing, and efficacy in their work.

The current study is a qualitative thematic analysis investigating the experience of job crafting toward incorporating strengths, general life interests, and development into a person’s work role. Researchers interviewed 32 postdoctoral scholars from November 2020 through April 2021. Transcriptions were created and in vivo coding and analysis was conducted to identify predominant themes that emerged throughout the interviews. The themes that emerged were around postdoctoral scholars job crafting toward their strengths, general life interests, and development, and will be included in the full presentation.

The study was designed to answer the research question of how postdocs use job crafting to maximize their job experience and move through the role optimally. The major findings from the study were that postdocs job craft toward strengths, interests, and development in highly varied ways, and there is room for a more uniform and deliberate implementation of this method given the high degree of autonomy that postdocs are given. Further, because many participants discussed not receiving much feedback or guidance around their development, the position is ripe for implementing job crafting. The topic of boundary management emerged when discussing crafting interests into the role, with some postdocs crafting their interests into their work given the passion and absorption they experienced with their research, and others crafting their interests away from their work in an attempt to create boundaries between their personal and professional lives.

In the full presentation we recommend a timeline for the implementation of a job crafting intervention for postdocs, advisors and mentors, and institutions to foster movement and support for the postdoc role given the lack of job design that has taken place around this critical role in the STEM academic career trajectory. This timeline can be used in other positions that require intensive training and mentoring as part of the career development of the employee. Additionally, the current study points to the need for institutions to spend more time in the job design phase for the postdoctoral scholar given the lack of objective demands and resources that are set for the role.

The intended audience for the study includes both academic and practitioners in the fields of organizational psychology and STEM to better understand the usefulness of a job crafting implementation to connect the job design with the perceived experience of job demands and resources, and to increase wellbeing among workers.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Basic research, Career Management and Decisions, Comprehensive Approaches to Healthy Work Design and Well-Being, Fit; Balance; Conflict; Spillover; and Enrichment, Job Attitudes; Turnover; and Retention, Work - Life - Family, Work Organization and Stress, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery