Career is the individual’s journey through life, learning and work*
Career narratives are the stories we tell and re-tell ourselves and others to help us make sense of our journeys; where we’ve come from, where we’re at and where we might be heading. Like other narrative approaches, a career storytelling approach emphasises connectedness, meaning making and agency as core constructs, and reflective writing (see last year’s blog here) is a useful technique to enact these constructs.
Heightened by the impact of the pandemic, career stories have become increasingly important as a way to make sense of uncertainty, to demonstrate adaptability and to help individuals navigate the unstable and unpredictable labour market. I’ve even heard some recruiters are asking researchers, what’s your covid story? during interviews.
As narrative theory is primarily based on understanding how change happens, it can provide a helpful approach in these uncertain and complex times. The story telling approach to narrative career guidance and counselling is grounded in the Systems Theory Framework (STF; McMahon & Patton, 1995) of career development which recognises the complexity of individuals’ lives through dynamic and connected individual, social and environmental-societal systems of influence. Reflecting on these complexities through career writing can help us to build critical consciousness, call out systemic failings and name oppressions whilst understanding where we do have control and agency to navigate the challenges.
Similarly, social cognitive thinking, presented in the work of the recently departed psychologist Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory, proposes that time can be divided into three time perspectives—past, present and future. Translating this into narratives with past experiences forms the stories that influence our efficacy beliefs, or our belief in our abilities to take action and have an impact. These stories set the stage for how we make judgments about the present and the narratives we construct about future possibilities.
Stories are everywhere and in every culture, from myths, legends and folktales through to family anecdotes. As Routledge (2011) states,
“stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values”.
Stories help to connect the head and the heart with several psychological reasons why stories are so powerful. Social connections are maintained through social storytelling. By sharing stories, we are sharing aspects of ourselves, including emotional state, values and outlook. Networking and hearing others’ stories can help us to connect and make sense of your own aspirations, whilst we learn more about others.
Taking time to reflect and write our career stories can help to make sense of the challenges of transitions as well as through listening and reading the career stories of others. Careers stories are personal narratives focused on the experiences and decisions that the story tellers find significant. They offer inspiration and insight into the lives and career decisions of the story tellers and can help with career learning. Vitae have collated Researchers Career Stories here and more recently UKRI have launched a 101 Jobs that Change the world – and why not consider sharing your career story?
As part of the drive to build a more inclusive and open research culture, you may have heard that UKRI is piloting a Narrative CV approach to allow for broader range of evidence to be considered in funding calls beyond narrow assessments such as purely publications. The aim is to encourage researchers to describe how they have helped to promote positive research cultures, such as open research practices. This single format CV across UKRI is based on the Royal Society’s Résumé for Researchers which focuses on four broad questions that you can weave into your storytelling:
- How have you contributed to the generation of knowledge?
What stories can you share of how you have contributed to the generation of new ideas and hypotheses, which key skills you have used to develop ideas and test hypotheses and where can they find evidence, ensuring it is open access.
- How have you contributed to the development of individuals?
Think about examples of collaborating with others, giving feedback and receiving feedback, mentoring and supervising others and how you’ve gone about doing these well. What stories do you have of behaviour change, or influencing the learning of others?
- How have you contributed to the wider research community?
Here you can describe how you have been proactive and got involved in wider activities such as working groups, committees, review and editing groups. Ask yourself how you have got involved in improving the research culture at Surrey and beyond, how you helped to amplify the voices of marginalised researchers, for example.
- How have you contributed to broader society?
What stories can you share about how you have engaged with the public, with industry and other stake holders? How have you influenced policy, for example?
Often it can be easier to answer these questions in dialogue with a supportive colleague, supervisor, mentor or a careers coach. Whether you are crafting a narrative CV, a LinkedIn profile, your personal website or a blog, consider the golden thread that connects your experiences into a coherent narrative and test out your story with others.
Take action now: Why not write your career story and share with colleagues or even better share with the wider research community through the Doctoral College Blog! And remember, Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers can book individual careers coaching sessions here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
* Career Definition from Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education at the University of Derby and Professor II at the Inland Norway University for Applied Science, Chief Research Officer at Institute of Student Employers (ISE) and an internationally renowned scholar and teacher on career education and guidance.
Dix, H (2020) Career Construction Theory and Life Writing, Life Writing, 17:1, 1-7, DOI: 10.1080/14484528.2020.1712853
McMahon M, Patton W. (1995) Development of a Systems Theory of Career Development: A Brief Overview. Australian Journal of Career Development. 1995;4(2):15-20. doi:10.1177/103841629500400207
McMahon, M & Watson, M (2013) Story telling: crafting identities, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 41:3, 277-286, DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2013.789824
Rutledge, P (2011). “The Psychological Power of Storytelling” in http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-media/201101/the-psychological-power-storytelling
Blog Post by Emma Francis, Careers Consultant at the Doctoral College. Emma works with Rana Marrington, Careers Consultant and together they provide tailored careers guidance and career development support for Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers and Doctoral College Alumni.