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BSc Psychology, preparing for and entering the graduate world Paper 126 HEA STEM Conference, Edinburgh 30 April – 1 May 2014. Peter Reddy, Rachel Shaw and Elisabeth Moores School of Life and Health Sciences. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

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BSc Psychology, preparing for and entering the graduate worldPaper 126HEA STEM Conference, Edinburgh30 April – 1 May 2014

Peter Reddy, Rachel Shaw and Elisabeth Moores

School of Life and Health Sciences

interpretative phenomenological analysis
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
  • Semi-structured interviews focusing on experiences related to graduating in psychology
  • Case-by-case analysis focusing on individual cares and concerns
  • Small number (5)
    • range of academic grades
    • all female home students
    • varied in terms of campus resident or not, ethnicity, disability status, academic success
    • four out of five took a sandwich placement year
    • professional (esp. clinical) Psychology an ambition for most
broad context
Broad context
  • Salience of ‘employability’ in psychology and in HE generally
  • Reflection on the purpose and structure of BSc psychology in US (Halpern, 2010) and UK (Trapp and Upton, 2011)
  • Value of work experience sandwich placement and how its known benefits are enacted
  • Interest in learning, growth and development at the graduate transition
the placement
The placement
  • Suzie: I think it was an eye opener and it reassured how you applied theory to practice. It’s completely different learning about it in books … when I was on placement the expectations just shot through the roof…
  • Nadia: I had such a terrible placement experience…I wanted to leave …felt very personally attacked …self conscious…uneasy, I couldn’t speak to her …making me feel really incompetent at my job…really worthless as a person…there’s so much control…very traumatic… being ill…having days off because I just didn’t want to see her.
  • I don’t think I would have got as high mark as I did having not gone through that experience. …it really focused and drove me … it was kind of proving myself and that I’m not stupid, I’m not incompetent, I can work.
  • (...learned most from?) … my placement, without a shadow of a doubt …it really has taught me so much.
  • Nadia:
    • … so I started working and I absolutely love it …and I no longer feel like a student …I’m really looking forward to like my journey into like the world of working, finding a career, doing something that I enjoy and I’ve got my first pay cheque as well, brilliant.
    • …meeting people and feeling like an adult and …I’m really, really enjoying it.
  • Louise:
    • … with the placement … I had a lot more support because it was almost like [the university] had instigated that placement … you’re coaxed into it, there was a of build up to it and so it was almost like I was guaranteed to get that placement….. I did visit the careers service a fair few times … but it was almost like, it was you know, it was down to me to find a job.
expectations 2
Expectations 2
  • Louise is active and entrepreneurial but has some passive expectations
    • things are expected to ‘materialise’,
    • others to ‘coax’ her into openings
  • A sense of disappointment, feeling let down, having unfulfilled career expectations, being baffled and frustrated, uncertainty of the value of investing in a university education
    • Yes, I’ve stayed in touch with a handful of people to see what they’re up to, the majority of them haven’t found employment from what I can gain.
social comparison
Social comparison
  • Louise compares herself with a friend who did not go to university
  • …it feels like I’m a step behind … although I’ve got a degree which in theory might really should put me …. ahead of the game … I’m not. … and … its predominantly … experience that they’ve got. … maybe I shouldn’t have gone to Unithen, maybe I should have just got some proper experience and got stuck into a 9.00 to 5.00 job rather than going into education. … It just makes you question like what you’ve invested in
  • Assumptions
    • Graduate status puts you ahead automatically and entitles you to apply for a higher grade of jobs not open to non-graduates
    • The University will make this happen, rather like a job centre
i dentity
  • Louise… the reason I feel a different person is because I don’t know what person I am. Like, I know I’m different but like why am I different and to what extent, there are still things I need to discover which, again, being at work and getting into a role and enjoying it will, hopefully, develop who I am and what I’m going to be in like, in a business.
  • But I don’t think I’ve experienced a long enough period of work to establish, like, who I am in that situation. I know who I am as a student and I know what I’m capable of like that, but no, at the moment I’m a person... I’m in limbo, it’s like trying to put some roots down and make the most of them, you know, I haven’t quite done that so...
i ncomplete denied identity
Incomplete / denied identity
  • Suzie finds it ‘slightly depressing’that she is still working at a supermarket and that ‘I haven’t moved anywhere’and ‘I don’t really know what to call myself’
  • … heridentity now? She responds crisply ‘No idea’. I think that she does identify with her chosen profession of clinical psychology and cherishes evidence of her own competence, but is denied full identity by her non-professional status, an in-between-ness that is common to all graduates aspiring to professional status. This identification with professional status has the potential for hubris as full identity may be denied – hence ‘no idea’.
  • Nadia: I don’t really feel defined yet… that I’ve really carved out anything for myself…I think your career definitely defines you.
b ecoming
  • Nadia: I was so scared initially. … because I was thinking I don’t know what I want to do…
  • I’m having to learn to become a little bit more chilled out and just let things be …and in a couple of year’s time you might not want to go down the career you wanted to at 22, and that’s fine…
  • … it’s the pressure from everybody else as well …. as soon as you leave it's like, ok, what are you going to do… They’ll want to know everything… your whole 10 year 15 year life plan… and they just think well why did you do psychology … I don’t have all the answers yet and it’s ok not to have all the answers.
c linical psychology

“I think we have been really pushed into (it)… a careers talk … that’s when it started … very, very early on in my degree.

…when you do your placement, and you see people who are in that career … and they’re telling you, you know, we’ve done it, you can do it, and it’s having those people telling you that, that really pushes you...

It definitely… was put on a pedestal as… this is one of the big jobs you can do… …one of those jobs that it’s so rewarding. …it can grow into you that clinical is the best of the best and if you achieve that you really have made it.

Clinical psychology
  • Dominates career aspirations – positioned as the best career, and for the best
  • placement year seen as a way to short-cut competition for graduate assistant posts
  • placement raises aspirations - a red rag to the ambitious & able
  • what students mean by psychology?
  • staff want all to be ambitious and to have opportunities
  • exposes poverty of students’ careers thinking; need wider models
Self-assurance, confidence, focus Suzie: …it's … a very tough time to graduate … but I think I've got what it takes
    • Is there a ‘plan B’ in case clinical ambitions fail?
    • No, it will work. I’m optimistic about that one thing
    • …that’s what the plan is, get experience in load of different areas but there’s no rush if I get there in 10 years, fine. You know, I’m 22 in August and if I get there when I’m 30 fine I’ll have no problems
  • She is aware of her ability and skills
    • … yes I can do it, yes I’m very capable, give me the money …
    • … I’m willing to take those kinds of gambles; I’m willing to take those risks to get to where I need to be …
    • … Ithink clinical psychology is definitely for me. You've got the record if five years down the line I’ve changed my mind completely
focus and dedication proactivity planning ambition attention to detail
Focus and dedication, proactivity, planning, ambition, attention to detail
  • … I’m working six days so I’m pretty exhausted. I only started last week... When I think of it I did a placement for nine months working at the supermarket two days, working at the placement for four days, so I did six days a week for about nine months so when I think about it, you know, it’s do-able
  • … to get this experience … I started setting this up from August.(Ten months earlier) As soon as I came out of my placement I was out there looking for more stuff. It’s only recently that they recruited some people then I thought they could start my induction at the same time with these people and, also, I didn’t want to be doing this while I had a dissertation and exams and … So actually I’d got my CRB in March … and only got in touch in the exams to say ok I’m finally ready now.
  • She had arranged voluntary work, including her CRB check, months in advance in order to be ready to start as her exams ended.
discomfort with her own competence
Discomfort with her own competence?
  • Embarrassment that competitor-colleagues are disorganised.
  • Distress at the conflict between being both colleague and competitor
    • between professional empathy and care and thecompetitiveness needed to get a job and a clinical training place.
    • Nadia: … maybe you have to be really ruthless …really determined and competitive and driven and all that, and sometimes …you might not be such a nice person to be around but maybe you have to, to make it in the world
  • May blame the unsuccessful as feckless to defend against acknowledging own success as highly organised, competitiveness, even ruthlessness.
  • May even be a Groucho Marx element – not wanting to be a member of a club that would accept me as a member
    • clinical psychology may be less worth aspiring to if they are so impressed by little old me!
developmental context
Developmental context
  • Levinson(1978, 1996) Early adulthood: 17 to 45
    • Early adult transition: 17 to 22
    • Entering the adult world: 22 to 28
  • Transition between eras can take 3 to 6 years to complete.  Within the broad eras are periods of development, each characterized by a set of tasks and an attempt to build or modify our life structure. 
  • A theme throughout every period is the ‘Dream.’ It has a vision-like quality, it is an imagined possibility generating excitement and vitality.  It is a projection of our ideal life and we are always becoming in relation to it.  The place and nature of the dream is modified and revised throughout life as the imagined self is compared with the world as we live through it.
    • (Tennant and Pogson,1995)
developmental tasks
Developmental tasks
  • In the Early Adult Transition the main task is to move out of the pre-adult world andtake a first step into the adult world. 
  • Constructing adulthood – these issues likely to feature
    • Own life, meaning, direction
      • Career – quotidian (9-5) graduate profession
    • Financial independence
      • Salary
    • Emotional independence
      • Life partner
      • Children, own family
    • Own home
      • Mortgage
leaving university a major transition
Leaving university – a major transition
  • Choices and self-creation – chaotic, unstructured & open ended relative to UCAS and university entry
    • Career choice?
    • Temporary job?
    • Straight to work?
    • Postgraduate course?
    • Go travelling?
    • Live back home?
    • Move in with partner?
  • As many losses as when joined university?
    • Youth
    • Freedom and protection of student identity
    • University friends, student life
      • not forgetting debt
is teaching for employability a betrayal of the university tradition
Is teaching for employability a betrayal of the university tradition?
  • The idea of liberal education is notoriously ambiguous but Newman defended it in the 19thCentury from the kind of utilitarianism satirised by Dickens in Hard Times
    • Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.
  • Includes the idea that the pursuit of knowledge brings liberation from dogma and illusion, and develops epistemic virtues
  • Barnett (2009) suggests that we talk now of skills rather than knowledge but that learning and understanding (making knowledge your own) has implications for being and becoming
barnett 2009 knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum
Barnett (2009) Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum
  • Argues that knowledge and skills do not offer a secure foundation, the world is super-complex and everything is debatable – need to add being.
  • Exposure to discipline-based HE may help form the dispositions and qualities needed
  • The focus is on pedagogy rather than knowledge
  • Aims to elicit the dispositions and qualities that enable students to appropriate curriculum themselves and create their own meaning and understanding
  • Aim to illuminate experience and reflect on what psychology programmes might do in facilitating personal development and employability.
  • In Levinson’s terms leaving the early adult transition and beginning to enter the adult world.
    • Does the ‘dream’ of clinical psychology matter? If not this dream Levinson implies there will be another. What happens to these unrealised dreams and dreamers?
  • How can ‘being and becoming’ influence the curicullum?