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The expansion of higher education in the United Kingdom (UK), the multiplication of doctoral routes and the increased precarity of academic jobs (Leathwood & Read 2020) have been associated with more uncertainties regarding the transition taken to a permanent academic position (Le Feuvre 2015). This paper seeks to examine and problematise the structures and practices recent PhD graduates from UK universities face as they navigate the transition to their first post-PhD position in higher education contexts characterised by temporal regimes which regulate access to an academic position. The data informing this paper are derived from our project studying the transition from PhD to academic position (Precarious transitions? Doctoral students negotiating the shift to academic positions, funded by British Academy-Leverhulme, 2020–2022). Particular attention is drawn to the role of supervisors as gatekeepers, able to give and withdraw opportunities to their doctoral students with significant consequences for career prospects. The concepts of mentorship and sponsorship are used to make sense of the different support received by doctoral students. We argue that practices of mentoring and, to an even greater extent, sponsoring, ease the transition from doctoral research to early career academics, with patterns of supervisory support legitimised through the mobilisation of narratives such as elective affinities or talent spotting.
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