Internationally and in South Africa there is great pressure on academics to obtain doctoral qualifications. A doctorate helps to facilitate full membership of academic communities and develop academic identities. Thus, this article investigates the identity development of academics who have been enrolled for their doctoral degrees for a few years. The article is written from a postmodern perspective. The situated learning theory and symbolic interactionism were used as conceptual frameworks. By means of a narrative enquiry research approach eight interviews were conducted. Thereafter, three narratives were selected for follow-up research with the participants. From the findings, three major themes emerged with implications for universities and for postgraduate supervision. These themes are: (1) socialisation into the language and values of a stable disciplinary and/or institutional community of practice; (2) internal–external dialectic of identification (self-definition and definition of oneself offered by others) to find meaning and build self-esteem, and (3) role-taking and role-conflict.