Author: Hampton, Susan
The dominant narrative around doctoral students and career preparation is informed by a discourse which assumes that the purpose of doctoral study is training for academic work. Rising PhD enrollments and shortages in the academic labour market are cited as evidence that PhD graduates are not well-equipped for occupations outside of academia. Complicating this narrative is the sentiment of the failed academic: a PhD graduate who "fails" to secure employment within academia and must settle for second-choice job prospects. This discourse shapes universities' efforts to support PhD students' transitions to work outside of academia, informing policy changes, programmatic and co-curricular development, including career preparation activities. Yet the underlying neoliberal assumptions within this perspective deserve examination, since the career paths of PhD graduates who work outside of academic settings are not well understood. Guided by a set of postmodern and constructivist career theories, and using narrative methodologies, I explored the career journeys of eight PhD graduates from the social sciences and humanities who pursued employment outside of academia. Over two years, I met with these individuals for a series of individual interviews to better understand how their careers unfolded over time. I analyzed participants' personal narratives and then collaborated with participants to reconstruct their narratives into storied accounts. The storied accounts highlight the ways in which the dominant narrative provides an overly simplistic and decontextualized reality of PhD students' working lives, and one which does not accurately represent the career realities of many PhD graduates. These storied accounts can be viewed as counter-narratives to the dominant narrative. These counter-narratives speak to the need to understand careers in context - recognizing that personal, social, and environmental-societal factors influence an individual's career journeys in unique ways. These counter-narratives beg for a reconsideration of how PhD students' career pathways are conceived, in order to disrupt the harmful assumptions implicit within the narrative of the failed academic. These findings also suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of PhD students' lives and careers is necessary to support PhD students in their career preparation while at the university.
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Thesis advisor: Cox, Rebecca
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