In the CHAE Report (Spring 2016), Dr. Cantwell's interest in the growth and trajectory of international postdocs at research universities is discussed.

Written by Nathan Johnson, doctoral student 

Educational researchers are informed by their experiences and guided by their curiosity. But few experiences are more transformative in shaping the trajectory of an educational researcher than their doctoral training. Assistant Professor Brendan Cantwell’s current research is no exception. Cantwell’s attention to the growth of international postdocs at research universities, particularly in the science disciplines, emerged during his days as a doctoral student. 

For Cantwell, what began as an observation of a demographic trend steadily evolved into a growing body of questions, many of which touched upon areas of political economy, academic capitalism, and institutional theory. In his search for answers, he immediately recognized a dearth of higher education literature addressing the changing roles of international postdocs. This glaring gap in the research would provide not only a robust direction for his dissertation, but also a pathway for his future research in higher education, leading to published and forthcoming papers in, among other outlets: Harvard Educational Review (Cantwell & Lee, 2010), Higher Education (Cantwell & Taylor, 2013), The Journal of Higher Education (Cantwell & Taylor, 2015), and Teachers College Record (Huang, Cantwell, & Taylor, in press). 

Broader research

Nearly a decade later, quite a lot has changed. Cantwell is no longer the sole investigator in this area of higher education research. His work has since attracted the interest of other researchers, each bringing new insights and directions for discovery. Cantwell’s own research questions have grown and changed over time as well. As a doctoral student, his interests in international postdocs concentrated largely on the experiences of the postdoc researchers themselves. Now his research is leading him toward broader issues of higher education policy, academic labor, and the production of science as a university enterprise. 

Perhaps most importantly, Cantwell’s introspection has allowed him to appreciate the process of doing educational research. In many ways, his approach has evolved in tandem with his research questions. Through his research experiences—ranging from revelations to wrong-turns—Cantwell has come to understand the importance of uncovering small-scale phenomena in order to inform larger concepts or problems. Providing convincing links from small to large, then, becomes the exciting and creative challenge in his research endeavors. 


Cantwell, B. & Lee, J. J. (2010). Unseen workers in the academic factory: Perceptions of neo-racism among international postdocs in the US and UK. Harvard Educational Review, 80(4), 490-517. 

Cantwell, B., & Taylor, B. J. (2013). Internationalization of the postdoctorate in the United States: Analyzing the demand for international postdoc labor. Higher Education, 66(5) 551-567. 

Cantwell, B. & Taylor, B. (2015). Rise of the science and engineering postdoctorate and the restructuring of academic research. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(5), 667 – 696 

Huang, Y., Cantwell, B., & Taylor, B. (in press). Reasons for becoming a postdoc: Differences by race and foreign-born status. Teachers College Record