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A future in the knowledge economy? Analysing the career strategies of doctoral scientists through the principles of game theory

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JournalHigher Education: the international journal of higher education research
DateAccepted/In press - 24 Oct 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 5 Nov 2018
DatePublished (current) - 15 Jul 2019
Issue number1
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)33–49
Early online date5/11/18
Original languageEnglish


In recent decades, increasing participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has emerged as a globally shared policy objective in higher education. This policy objective is underpinned by a commitment to the economic framework of the knowledge economy and the belief that STEM education, knowledge and innovation are prerequisites for economic growth. This paper is concerned with doctoral scientists, who occupy a position of considerable privilege according to knowledge economy discourse: expertly knowledgeable, highly skilled and sought by elite employers. This paper assesses these policy claims against the experiences of recent doctoral scientists studying in the UK. Data from a 3-year mixed-method study are subjected to a novel, game theory informed analysis of students’ values, decision-making behaviour and career ambitions. While all doctoral scientists engage in career-oriented strategizing, the game strategies employed by students are diverse and reveal conflicted understandings of knowledge economy policy. Implications of these findings and the analytical merits of game theory are discussed.

Bibliographical note

©The Author(s) 2018

    Research areas

  • Decision-making, Doctorate, Game theory, Graduate careers, Higher education policy, Knowledge economy

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