The Professional Careers of Russian Social Scientists

Natalia Mazlumyanova

The paper deals with different strategies of making the career of a social scientist in Russia. Different factors that influence the choice of a scientific career, the directions of their development, and also the main tendencies in making such careers are investigated. The main attention is paid to such aspects as generation group, types of values, the structure of motivation and its dynamics, types and levels of achievements.

The research was conducted on the basis of professional biographies of social scientists. The respondents were selected by the criteria of their direct relation to scientific work. Besides, the texts of interview with men of science published in Russian “Sociological Journal” under the heading “Professional careers” and scientific biographies of top-level sociologists from the book Российская социология 60- х годов в воспоминаниях и документах (СПб., 1999) were used.

The actuality of the research is connected with the transformation of the institution of science in modern Russia. The conditions of work in this field has changed, the prestige of scientific career has gone down (has fallen). The incomes now do not depend directly on the rank of a specialist; extra personal efforts are necessary, such as finding extra jobs, getting grants, etc. New promising spheres of work, especially for the young, appeared. Many scientists left the country; many of those who remained chose more prestigious and well-paid fields. The in-migration has also a latent form: a number of people who nominally stay “in science” get the main income from beyond its limits. In the 90 s the general number of scientists has decreased noticeably, mainly at the expense of young people and those who did not have a scientific degree. One of the consequences of this process is an increase in the number of women in science who could obtain now positions in the sphere that has become less paid and less prestigious. At the same time an interest to scientific degrees on the side of representatives of power and business has increased.

As a result the traditional types of scientific careers were destroyed, and people who choose such a career or remain in this field have motivations that differ from those of soviet time. The traditional set of “acknowledgement forms” and the way of creation ranks in scientific sphere have changed. The structure of careers, the main incentives, and the factors affecting the careers in modern Russia have been not studied yet.

The specific tasks of this research are: to find factors stimulating/hampering the development of a scientific career; to plot and analyze career profiles (trajectories), including the description of the main career events, their temporal distribution; the critical points (situations of choice), the type of career development (vertical/horizontal), the degree of stability/instability of the professional career; and also to investigate the connection between the professional status and the phase of life cycle.

We analyzed such data as personal, social and demography characteristics of scientists, the motives of choosing the profession (occupational choice); the ideas of profession, future work when entering the university and having graduated; the succession of the job places (places of occupation); formation and development of scientific interests; intellectual and ideological influences; professional contacts; professional continuity in the family; the main achievements; perspectives and projects for further work; evaluation of the success in life and general contentment with life. Special attention was paid to the following moments: 1) the main events named by the respondents, the types of events; the frequency of events; the connection between them; 2) the situations of making the most important decisions (turning points, critical moments) concerning choosing of a future profession, directions of research, advisers, job places, etc. and the motivations of these decisions; 3) the degree of attachment to a certain organization; 4) the main resources of income; 5) the relationship with the scientific community; 6) the achievements and the recognition attained: contributions, ranks, etc; 7) factors influencing the development of careers, directly or indirectly.

Choosing of profession: motivations. Most sociologists of older generation are philosophers by education. They have chosen philosophy not only because of their interest in “sacred knowledge” but also because of their interest in social order, in the mystery of making social life “right”. Later on this interest brought them to sociology. Some of the respondents were educated in different spheres: history, mathematics, journalism, linguistics, etc. They have come to sociology as a consequence of their scientific research and reading. Very often young people choosing the place for higher education proceed from their general desire to study subjects that came easy to them at school. Sometimes the future philosopher or sociologist wanted to get education that would help him to obtain some important post or to solve a certain social problem he is interested in (for example, the problem of anti-Semitism).

As our analysis has shown initial reasons for choosing a profession do not determine the success of a person in this field. In the process of work a change of motivation often has place. In particular the educational motivation leaves place for the professional one, general interest in social processes – for specific interest in concrete themes taking into account the possibilities of their development, financing, etc.

The question of motivation for choosing the profession is connected with the question of the people who made the impact on professional, and wider, intellectual life of respondents and of the types of their effect on careers. Among significant people parents, school teachers, university professors, scientific advisers, supervisors, and colleagues were named. They aroused interest in intellectual work, in science in general, plainly suggested scientific ideas, provided the most-favored conditions for work, demonstrated the patterns of scientific style, scientific ethics.

The study of the characteristics above allowed making several classifications concerning professional careers of social scientists.

Attachment to a certain organization. In post-Soviet time there appeared the unlimited possibility to combine jobs, and also to get grants from different funds. On the other hand, no one must have a permanent job. Depending on the tendency of combining jobs, frequency of changing them, the attachment to a certain organization, a certain scientific theme, and also on the level and type of professional achievements six types of scientists were distinguished.

Professional strategies as connected to interaction with scientific community.The analysis has shown that there is a great difference between the scientists connected with their position on the scale “collectivism” – “individualism”. Such characteristics as the presence/absence of close working contacts with colleagues, self-identification with them, and their effect on the levels of claims and achievements were considered. Six types of professional strategies were distinguished respective different states and different combinations of these characteristics.

The career profiles. The achievements of a scientist can be measured by several scales, such as academic degrees and status; qualification level; scientific position; administrative post; scientific achievements; the level of notability, prestige in the science. Accordingly, several directions of scientific careers can be distinguished: 1) pure scientific activity (the development of ideas); 2) popularization of scientific ideas (teaching, publishing scientific journals, etc.); 3) administrative development (management functions); 4) business in science (the production and selling of scientific product).

As a rule, a career develops in several directions at the same time having different progress at different scales. The type of a career can be determined by a combination of positions on these scales. Taking into consideration temporal distribution of the progress in different directions; the presence of turning-points connected with changing of themes, organizations, subject field in the whole; the general direction of career’s development; its slowing down or speeding-up, we can mark out the types of career profiles. In all five types of such profiles were distinguished.

Factors that influence the development of careers. Among factors that can influence the development of careers there are personal (abilities, health), social, material ones, etc. These factors can be dependant or not dependant on the person, constant or temporary, external or internal.

One of the main external factors of the Soviet time was a political situation, determined by the state ideology. When choosing new themes and directions of research that did not agree with canonical Marxism one had to camouflage them, to wield certain diplomatic skills.

One of the very important resources was a membership in the communist party, a party status. To have the possibility to work at a more or less non-standard theme and just for successful advancement the support of an influential supervisor was necessary. Among general external factors there were also the prohibition to combine several places of employment, the limited number of such places for sociologists. A very important moment was an access to foreign literature and a proper knowledge of foreign languages. Behind the iron curtain a scientist with these possibilities had a great advantage over his colleagues.

A great defect was a “wrong” nationality. First of all it referred to Jews. Not rare were cases when people had to change their names and nationality to proceed in their careers.

Now many of these factors have lost their actuality; social and personal resources have become more urgent.

Very important is the existence of favorable professional surroundings, a good supervisor of studies (scientific adviser). Wide professional contacts help to find job, lighten the development of a career. Such personal qualities as sociability, ethical conduct, the skill of finding or creating a group of support is desirable. One of the positive factors is being young (of course it does not concern the top level specialists). Young specialists are considered to be more promising; numerous programs of supporting young scientists exist, including grants, apprenticeship in foreign universities, etc.

Besides the talent successful scientists are characterized by strongly expressed want for achievement, the capacity for intensive work. Many of them are also rather adventurous.

But all these positive qualities do not ensure a success. In the domain of “pure science” there is no guaranteed, “obligatory” reward either for one’s abilities, or for the efforts made.

* International Biography and History of Russian Sociology Projects feature interviews and autobiographical materials collected from scholars who participated in the intellectual movements spurred by the Nikita Khrushchev's liberalization campaign. The materials are posted as they become available, in the language of the original, with the translations planned for the future. Dr. Boris Doktorov ( and Dmitri Shalin ( are editing the projects.