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The paradox of 'developing' employability: A study of physics students' engagement with their graduate prospects

D'Silva, Sinead Marian (2019) The paradox of 'developing' employability: A study of physics students' engagement with their graduate prospects. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Although relating directly to the lives of young people, the employability agenda and attempts to address the so-called ‘STEM skills gap’ do not appear to take into consideration the very people it intends to affect. This research addresses a limitation in understanding the factors that influence decision-making processes of young people as they make their way from a degree to their future trajectories. I conducted a qualitative, narrative-based longitudinal study over 18 months with eight students from the beginning of their final year on their physics degree to six months after graduation. These ‘case stories’ are analysed by using Margaret Archer’s (2003, 2007, 2012) theoretical lens of Internal Conversations to understand everyday reflexivity in making decisions relating to career and employment. The research highlights a paradox in the expectations placed on graduates, particularly young people, as they prepare for employment. It finds that (1) rather than just the formal routes of employability development, young people’s decisions about their employment and career futures are influenced by the interplay of personal and structural aspects beyond financial exchange-value of a degree. It incorporates the competing demands of employers, university and their social networks, alongside personal expectations for themselves. (2) The thesis provides an improved understanding of the impact of physics in relation to getting any job; here I present the concept of the ‘Science Ego’ which enables physicists to transition to their futures with a certain sense of confidence. (3)The findings also call for a careful consideration of the impact of geography on transitioning from a degree. Overall, the research reveals the paradoxical nature of developing employability in a perpetually changing landscape of HE which is influenced by a neoliberal form of economy. Here, the individual also takes into consideration their own fulfilment rather than only complying with job market demands.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Employability; Higher Education; Degree transitions; STEM careers; Young people and work; graduate futures
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds) > School of Education (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences (Leeds) > School of Physics and Astronomy (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.786533
Depositing User: Sinead Marian D'Silva
Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2019 09:46
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2020 12:50
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/24861

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