Brianna Caza, University of North Carolina

Losing the Plot? How narrative identity challenges affect independent scientists’ progression, thriving, and resilience
Brianna Caza


Winter 2023
Lecture Time: 
Friday, February 17, 2023 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

R0220, Ross building

Introduced By: 
Megan Gabruk


Creating and maintaining a clear, meaningful, and sustainable narrative about one’s identity is both a fundamental human motive and is associated with a host of positive outcomes. Typically, organizations and professional institutions provide people with scripts for building such an identity which serve to guide behavior, clarify relational expectations, and define career pathways. Yet despite investing heavily in their own education and training, professional gig workers may struggle to develop their identity story both because they lack the guidance of such structures and because the dynamics of gig work continually challenge important elements of one’s narrative identity, including plot, characters, coherence, continuity. In this paper we ask two interrelated questions: How does the experience of ongoing narrative challenges impact workers’ weekly behaviors and well-being? And how do gig workers build their career narratives? Addressing the first question, we propose that such challenges don’t only manifest as occasional bouts of existential anxiety, but instead are experienced as everyday realities that affect individuals’ sense of weekly progress, their feelings of thriving in their work lives, and their perceptions of their own resilience by affecting their ability to both stay focused and motivated, and exhibit the proactivity needed to get ahead of problems and tackle challenges. We test and find support for our hypotheses with longitudinal survey data collected three times per week over five weeks from 207 independent scientists. To address the second question, we analyze 244 independent scientists’ reports about their career sensemaking and future plans. These data are the first that we know of to explore how professional gig workers conceptualize and think about careers in the gig economy and offer insight into the core plot themes that gig workers use to make sense of and craft their stories of their work selves. Our paper contributes to theorizing at the intersection of identity and gig work by demonstrating how narrative identity serves as a critical resource for contemporary workers and providing insight into how professional gig workers build this resource by writing their career narratives as they go.

Recording & Additional Notes

Brianna Barker Caza received her Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and is now an Associate Professor at the Bryan School of Business and Economics, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Professor Caza’s research program seeks to understand the resources and processes that produce resilience in turbulent and dynamic work contexts. Through her research she seeks to identify ways that individuals, dyads, and organizations can create work environments that allow professionals to thrive amidst unexpected events and environmental changes. She has a particular interest in identity and interpersonal dynamics related to professionalized work in in the gig economy, and high stakes contexts such as healthcare and the Armed Forces. Her research has been published in many top tier outlets including Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Annals, Academy of Management Discoveries, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Her research has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, SHRM, and The Conversation. Based on the impact of her research, she was recognized as one of the 2019 Radar thinker management thought leaders by Thinkers50.