Adviser on the Edge

Spatial perspectives on career guidance and development


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The role of humour in the creation of island graduate identities

What I love about research is the way that interesting ideas come at you sideways. So, a couple of weeks ago I met a friend who is based at the Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney and has been researching the relationship between language and identity focussing on the community of Stromness from the 1960s to the present. She leant me her masters dissertation into the dialogical negotiation of cultural identity in Orkney and it was fascinating!

I particularly loved the discussion of Bakhtin’s work and the lens it can give to examining the construction of Orcadian identity. This reminded me of how much I loved studying Bakhtin in my first degree and got me thinking about how I could use my background in literature and literary theory in my current studies.

One of the statements that stood out from Becky’s research was:

“Bakhtin’s identification of carnival laughter offers a useful framework to describe how humour in Orkney acts not only against bigsy-ness [an Orcadian word that roughly translates as ‘arrogance’] and towards inclusiveness but at the same time is characterised by ambivalence, allowing things to be said publicly which can then be disclaimed by appealing to the fact that ‘everybody kens its only said in fun’” (Rebecca Ford, 2013, unpublished)

And this reminded me of how in my masters studies one of the key findings was that graduates looking for work in Orkney described avoiding talking about their degree because they didn’t want to seem ‘too big for their boots’ – that is they avoided being ‘bigsy’. And yet, at the same time they did need to show their skills / abilities in the workplace, and to be able to talk about their degree in contexts where it was relevant. I guess in this respect, there seems to be a high demand on graduates in a small community to maintain different identities, that are constructed in different ways in different settings, and yet, their identities must still remain consistent enough so that their identities don’t contradict each other. It is quite possible that carnival laughter plays a part in this, I suggested in my dissertation that in order to be successful, graduates commonly adopted a strategy that involved ‘downplaying’ their abilities directly (in speech) but making sure that they demonstrated their skills practically (through voluntary and community work particularly). Thinking about this in the light of Becky’s work, I wonder if the added advantage to this strategy is that it allows a particular form of self-deprecating humour – with graduates (humorously) downplaying their skills in a way that may actually ironically improve their reputation because the people they are talking to know that the graduate is really very capable indeed (they can see it from the work they’ve done).

One of the examples of humour in Becky's dissertation was a story about a library assistant who thought someone wanted a book about 'Thomas O'Quoyness' when actually they wanted a book about Thomas Aquinas (with 'Aquinas' and 'O'Quoyness'  being pronounced very similarly in an Orcadian accent).

Quoyness chambered tomb in Sanday. One of the examples of humour in Becky’s dissertation was a story about a library assistant who thought someone wanted a book about ‘Thomas O’Quoyness’ when actually they wanted a book about Thomas Aquinas (as ‘Aquinas’ and ‘O’Quoyness’ can sound very similar in an Orcadian accent).


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Population of Scottish Islands on the increase…

So, it seems that the population of Scotland’s islands is on the increase… And you’ll never guess – the largest increase has been in Orkney! I found this comment from our Council Convener (quoted in the Scotsman) particularly interesting:

“Ours is a strong community where folk look out for each other, and we value our culture and heritage. We’re ambitious as well – with a can-do attitude and willingness to embrace new ideas and opportunities.The emergence of the marine renewables industry has created around 250 new jobs, bringing with it not only the workers, but their families too, and providing opportunities for our young people to find work at home.”


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“Moving home” or “moving for employment” – Trends in Graduate Migration

I have just been reading a short paper: ‘The complex migration pathways of UK graduates[1]. In this project an online survey was conducted of graduates from Southampton University (2001-7) capturing data about their movements and statuses over 5 years.

The main finding is that migration choices after University can be complex with: ‘approximately one quarter of respondents [being] highly mobile during the five year period after leaving university (they moved between 5-8 times)…’ (p.1)

However, what interested me particularly were the reasons behind the migration patterns… So where the most common reason for a graduate’s first move was ‘return to parents’ (32.7%), the most common reason for a graduate’s second move was ‘employment’ (32.3%). Further, with each subsequent move, greater proportions of migrants moved to London, or back to Southampton. To me, this is interesting because I wonder what impact the parents’ location may have on migration pathways. For some graduates, for example, the parental home may be in a very remote area some distance from University and / or from London, whereas other parents may actually live in the London area. So, what impact does this have on rural graduates? Is ‘going home’ more or less likely after graduation if it involves moving a long distance away? Once home do graduates feel the pressure to move back to an urban environment more acutely or once they’ve moved is it harder to move such a long distance back to an urban area? If anyone reading this blog has any thoughts about this I’d love to hear them!

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London – preferred destination for Southampton graduates… even if it takes them several moves to get there.

One further interesting point for me, is that in the research paper, hidden away towards the bottom of the list of reasons for the first move post-graduation is the phrase ‘urban-rural’ which accounts for 3 answers or 0.5% of the sample… while this is a very small number, this reason intrigues me…! There is simply not enough detail in the paper to be able to read between the lines about what this might represent though, so I may just have to remain intrigued!


[1] ESRC Centre for Population Change Briefing 9 October 2012 Sage, J; Evandrou, M; and Falkingham, J.


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The PhD Adventure…

Hooray! I’m now enrolled for my PhD – which is an exciting and daunting prospect! The provisional title for my work is “the impact of rural upbringing on graduates’ narratives of career development and migration choices”.

What I want to find out from my research is how growing up in a rural and remote place impacts on  choices about where to go to university and what to do after university.  I will be taking a case study approach and interviewing a selection of graduates from from one particular rural and remote location: Orkney (which for those of you who don’t know is a group of islands off the North coast of Scotland).

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This is my masters thesis… I think the PhD will be a bit longer!

In writing my proposal I have been heavily influenced by Ball and Higgins’ recent study into graduate migration and employment outcomes in the West of England (Ball and Higgins, 2010). In this research Ball and Higgins found that different kinds of migrant experienced quite different employment outcomes with ‘incomers’ showing some of the best employment outcomes and ‘returners’ some of the worst. During their study they identified that the migration choices of graduates may be based on a range of social, economic and personal reasons, but they concluded that further research was needed to understand the motivations of different kinds of graduate for their migration choices.

North Cornwall

I hope that my research will add to the literature on graduate migration, but in particular I would like to understand more about graduate migration from rural areas. My interest in graduate migration in rural areas comes from my experience as a careers adviser for the University of the Highlands and Islands – because we serve some of the most rural communities in the UK. It also stems from my personal experience of growing up in a rural community (North Cornwall), leaving for university, and then returning on graduation.

Some research of rural populations in Canada has suggested that success in school environments involves young people  ‘learning to leave’ rural areas for urban university environments (Corbett, 2007). In addition, research in Australia has suggested that rural students who go to university have to find a way of adjusting themselves to their urban environments, which often involves reframing their rural background (Holt, 2010).

So, it seems to me that understanding the ‘urban-rural’ dynamic may be important when considering the migration choices of graduates who have grown up in a rural area. And this is what I would like to look at in more detail during my PhD. Ultimately I hope to discover something about how growing up in a rural location may influence career and migration decisions, and potentially I will be looking for ways that the results of my research may be able to inform the careers education, information and guidance that I deliver as part of my job.

So, how’s that sound? I’d be really interested in any comments you might have about my plans!