Skip to main content

Lives in Science

How Institutions Affect Academic Careers

What can we learn when we follow people over the years and across the course of their professional lives? Joseph C. Hermanowicz asks this question specifically about scientists and answers it here by tracking fifty-five physicists through different stages of their careers at a variety of universities across the country. He explores these scientists’ shifting perceptions of their jobs to uncover the meanings they invest in their work, when and where they find satisfaction, how they succeed and fail, and how the rhythms of their work change as they age. His candid interviews with his subjects, meanwhile, shed light on the ways career goals are and are not met, on the frustrations of the academic profession, and on how one deals with the boredom and stagnation that can set in once one is established.

An in-depth study of American higher education professionals eloquently told through their own words, Hermanowicz’s keen analysis of how institutions shape careers will appeal to anyone interested in life in academia.

344 pages | 1 line drawing, 29 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Education: Higher Education

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“Joseph Hermanowicz’s book on the scientific life cycle is a fascinating account of the effects of accomplishment on personal well-being. Disillusionment comes early to those who fail to make their mark. But scientists who labor in relative obscurity are often more contented later in life than high achievers who, as they near retirement, no longer command the stage. Lying under the surface of the éminence grise is, very often, a discontented human being.”

Steven Brint, University of California, Riverside

“A well-researched, well-written, and insightful look into the lives of academic physicists. Hermanowicz offers a rich, textured, nuanced look into the shifting worlds of American academic science, the key institutions in which it comes to be, and the lives of the people who bring it into being. Lives in Science will be important and exciting for scholars concerned with academic or scientific careers and the sociology of knowledge and education—and it will be useful to future generations as a model of thoughtfully crafted research design and analytic method.”--Anna Neumann, Teachers College, Columbia University

Anna Neumann

“This book is a must-read for anyone contemplating a life in academia or already working as a professor. Lives in Science explains what the high point will be of your career, whether you will be sufficiently appreciated by your peers, when you can expect to be satisfied with your work, and whether you will look forward to your retirement.”

Stefan Timmermans, University of California, Los Angeles

“This fascinating longitudinal study of 55 academic physicists integrates insights from the sociology of occupations and professions, the life course, and science to illuminate the interplay of agency and structure as scientists navigate their careers. Lives in Science convincingly demonstrates that the subjective experience of scientists, including their aspirations, satisfactions, and disappointments, varies over the course of their careers in distinctive ways that parallel the rewards, opportunities, and constraints typifying their organizational contexts—elite (research oriented), communitarian (teaching oriented), and pluralistic (encompassing both). In the face of increased emphasis on the research mission throughout academe, Hermanowicz raises provocative questions about the continued vitality of scientists and the scientific enterprise as a whole in the midst of institutionally generated anomie and widespread dissatisfaction.”--Jeylan T. Mortimer, University of Minnesota

Jeylan T. Mortimer

“Anyone contemplating a career as an academic physicist should read this book.”

Physics World

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Guiding Theoretic Perspectives
Physics and Physicists
Organization of the Book

1 Following the Scientists
    Foundations of the Follow-up Study
    Research Design and Sample
    The Ten-Year Career Interval
    The Fieldwork
    Analysis of Data
    Academic Worlds Then and Now

2 Early- to Mid-Career Passages
    Professional Profile
    Early Career Patterns

3 Mid- to Late-Career Passages
    Professional Profile
    Mid-Career Patterns

4 Late- to Post-Career Passages
    Professional Profile
    Late-Career Patterns

5 Lives of Learning
    Expectations and the Rhythm of Careers
    Anomie and Adaptation
    Reference Groups and Social Control
    Selection of Reference Groups
    Rejection of Reference Groups
    Social Control of the Life Course
    Careers in Other Academic Fields
    Future Cohorts of Scientists and Contexts of Science

    Appendix A: Interview Protocol—Foundational Study, 1998
    Appendix B: Contact Letter to Scientists
    Appendix C: Thank-You Letter to Scientists
    Appendix D: Interview Protocol
    Appendix E: Post-Interview Questionnnaire
    Appendix F: Departmental Questionnaire
    Appendix G: Propositions Generated by the Study



American Sociological Association: ASA-Aging and Life Course Distinguished Publication Award

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press