Exploring the career aspirations of women doctoral students: a longitudinal qualitative study

HANDFORTH, Rachel (2018). Exploring the career aspirations of women doctoral students: a longitudinal qualitative study. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00092


This thesis explores how women doctoral students imagine their post-PhD futures, and how doctoral experiences shape career aspirations. Situated in literature highlighting the persistence of gender inequality in academia, and gendered post-PhD career choices, this research illuminates the factors which influence aspirations, and the role of the PhD in the 'leaky pipeline'. Using qualitative methods – interviews, research diaries, and letters to future selves – within a longitudinal framework, it explores how academic careers are perceived over time, and how shifting personal priorities shape imagined futures. Using possible selves theory and the concept of horizons for action as theoretical tools enables analysis of individual agency and academic structures. Adopting a three-dimensional narrative inquiry approach, underpinned by feminist research principles, places participants' stories at the centre of the thesis. These methodological and theoretical approaches make visible the structural barriers that participants perceived to pursuing academic careers, including the pressure to publish and the prevalence of insecure contracts. The research makes explicit how gendered issues pose barriers, including perceived incompatibilities between family and academic life. These issues hindered participants' sense of belonging to academic communities and their ability to develop academic identities. This research demonstrates how the doctorate acts as a litmus test for an academic career, allowing participants to observe what being an academic involves, and judge whether or not academia is ‘for’ them. It has implications for the higher education sector, current and future doctoral students, and those involved in doctoral education and support. This research makes four key contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it addresses the gap in knowledge about women's experiences of doctoral study, and their career aspirations. Secondly, its cross-disciplinary approach contributes to literature on academic cultures. Thirdly, it adds to knowledge about how PhD students develop feelings of belonging to academic communities. Finally, my introduction of the career savvy concept contributes to literature on doctoral students' career development. This research also makes methodological contributions through its longitudinal perspective and use of letters to future selves, and offers a theoretical contribution in combining possible selves theory from psychology with the sociological concept of horizons for action.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Taylor, Carol [0000-0002-0914-8461]
Additional Information: Director of Studies - Professor Carol Taylor No PQ harvesting
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00092
Depositing User: Justine Gavin
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2018 11:21
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:01
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/22420

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