In the current higher education climate, there is a growing perception that the pressures associated with being an academic middle manager outweigh the perceived rewards of the position. This article investigates the personal and professional circumstances that lead academics to become middle managers by drawing on data from life history interviews undertaken with 17 male and female department heads from a range of disciplines, in a post-1992 UK university. The data suggests that experiencing conflict between personal and professional identities, manifested through different socialization experiences over time, can lead to a ‘turning point’ and a decision that affects a person’s career trajectory. Although the results of this study cannot be generalized, the findings may help other individuals and institutions move towards a firmer understanding of the academic who becomes head of department—in relation to theory, practice and research
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