Doing the work of a scientist? Embarking on a Scientific Career in Britain from WW2 to the Early Post-War Period
Coming out of WW2 and into the post-war period, scientists were in demand following the increased prestige placed upon science. Inventions such as radar were keenly felt to have helped win the Battle of Britain along with the technological prowess of aircraft such as the Hurricane and Spitfire. Science provided a vision for the modernization of Britain in politics and it was also encapsulated in events such as the Festival of Britain (1951). For those scientists who were about to start their career during WW2, many found themselves undertaking fast-track degrees and training schemes with funding from the government. Many others were directed into work by the Ministry of Labour and National Service through the Central (Scientific and Technical) Register headed by Civil Service Commissioner, C.P. Snow. During the early post-war period, an expansion of both secondary and university education, demands for ‘scientific manpower’ and further advances in science set an additional backdrop for facilitating opportunities for those seeking to pursue a career in science. Drawing mostly upon oral history interviews with scientists for ‘An Oral History of British Science’ accompanied by other written sources, this paper will consider the opportunities that were available and how these were taken up within the midst of some of these developments.
However, people’s career choices are also very personal as well as being context dependent making them notoriously difficult to attribute to any one factor in a given period. This paper will therefore pay particular attention to the interplay between the opportunities available and the personal motivations at stake in oral history accounts of scientists. Additionally, it will reflect on how scientists’ narrate their experiences and what their narratives can further reveal about their emerging social identities during this period.