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Meaningful work in context: paradox and intersectionality (Advert Reference: RDF22/BL/LHRM/VU)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Mai Vu  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

High levels of meaningfulness have often been associated with higher levels of productivity, engagement and commitment; and reduced levels of absenteeism at work (for a review see Bailey et al., 2019). Partly for these reasons, research into meaningful work is of practical benefit to employers and to workers themselves. However, there is no easy way to ensure that work is experienced as meaningful (Michaelson, 2021). Research has highlighted a number of paradoxes and tensions inherent in meaningful work (see Bailey et al., 2019; Sheep et al., 2017) that demand further investigation. Recent studies have also integrated intersectionality to explore a wide range of intersecting sources of oppression, including sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, citizenship status, and age (Collins, 2019) that helps us to understand more about the different ways in which work is experienced as meaningful. For instance, spiritual traditions can influence the interplay of subjective and normative interpretations of meaningful work (Vu & Burton, 2021), ragpickers in the lowest caste in Indian society can construct both an overarching sense of helplessness rooted in the intractability of their situation, and a set of positive meanings from their work (Shepherd et al., 2021). Paradoxical dimensions of meaningful work have also been captured in contexts with an ‘overflow’ of meaningfulness that can render meaningfulness as meaningless for volunteer workers in refugee camps (Florian et al., 2019).

Research has demonstrated that meaningful work is influenced by societal and cultural contexts (e.g., Lepisto & Pratt, 2017; Michaleson, 2019; Mitra & Buzzanell, 2017, Vu, 2020, 2021) and the way individuals develop virtuous dispositions (e.g., Beadle, 2017; 2019; Beadle & Knight, 2012) over time. Highly stressful events such as the Covid-19 pandemic has created a career shock (Akkermans et al., 2020), influencing individuals’ perceptions of meaningful work (e.g., Kramer & Kramer, 2020) that can alter individuals' meaning-making systems (Janoff-Bulman & Frantz, 1997). Terms such as ‘worker safety’, ‘the value of work’, ‘key workers’ and ‘ethics of care’ have entered political discourse (Breen & Deranty, 2021; Hodder & Lucio, 2021). Distressing experiences during the COVID-19 crisis can lead to an elevated level of career change intention and the need for the re-evaluation of career aspirations to more positive life decisions and opportunities (Akkermans et al., 2020; Vough et al., 2015). Studies have found that individuals tend to choose to work in other sectors deemed essential during the pandemic (e.g., Baum et al., 2020).

There is a need for a holistic approach to address the inherently tensional and temporal character of meaningful work (Bailey & Madden, 2017; Mitra & Buzzanell, 2017) and how it influences career changes. Coming out of the pandemic, how a sense of temporality influences meaningful work, what paradoxes have been experienced by individuals and how do they navigate individuals’ choices of career? This project seeks to explore novel and exciting new pathways of research exploring meaningful work in unique contexts coming out of the pandemic that can shed light on the paradoxes influencing career choices at the intersection of work, organization, spirituality and ethics.

We welcome different methodological approaches for data collection (mixed methods and qualitative approaches) to capture the exploratory nature of the study, which will demonstrate potential significant impact on the future of meaningful work. We are looking for a student who is innovative and motivated with good analytical skills to join this multi-disciplinary research.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/BL/LHRM/VU) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Principal Supervisor Dr Mai C. Vu

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Beadle, R. (2017) “Virtue and the Case for Meaningful Work” In Sison, A., Fontrondona, J and G. Beabout. (Eds.) Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business, New York: Springer. 835-843.
Beadle, R. (2019). “Work, Meaning and Virtue” In Yeoman, R., Bailey, K., Madden, A and Thompson, M. (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 73-87.
Vu, M. C. (2020). How the contextual constraints and tensions of a transitional context influence individuals’ negotiations of meaningful work–the case of Vietnam. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-27.
Vu, M. C., & Burton, N. (2021). The Influence of Spiritual Traditions on the Interplay of Subjective and Normative Interpretations of Meaningful Work. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-24.
Vu, M. C. (2021). Sensemaking and spirituality: The process of re-centring self-decentralisation at work. The International Journal of Human Resource Management
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