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Constructing early graduate careers: navigating uncertainty in transition

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
  • Fiona Christie
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Publication date2018
Number of pages178
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

There has been a growing pressure on higher education to be seen to deliver positive graduate outcomes. The prospects of graduates attract the attention of many commentators including the media, employers, government and universities themselves. Literature about graduate career destinations has tended to draw upon quantitative data about trends while more local and qualitative commentary about the experience of graduates has been scarcer. This study seeks to address this gap by exploring the meaning-making that graduates confer to early careers in an uncertain labour market.

The context of this study is the population of one northern university in England. Graduates of Arts, Creative Arts and Humanities and Business and Law are investigated. Data collected included a survey, followed by interviews; research was timed to occur to capture experiences in the first two years after graduation. The study aims for an integrative approach which acknowledges the potential of varied schools of thought (including labour market studies, management, psychology, career guidance and sociology), and has adopted the anthropological theory of Figured Worlds, as a novel lens to consider how individuals author themselves in an economic context characterised by uncertainty.

Findings reveal the considerable identity work engaged in by individuals in reflecting upon their situation. Diversity, complexity and contradictions are normal in how graduates confer meaning to their early careers. The space to author selves is influenced by competing discourses about employability, contested notions of what being a successful graduate is as well as various “standard plots” about careers. More expansive and nuanced notions of being a graduate emerge which question public policy which narrowly defines positive outcomes. A new theoretical model which includes both social and individual factors is borne out of the analysis, which contributes to career guidance theory and practice.