Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice

The PhD project

This page provides some details about my current PhD research for those of you who are interested:

Title: The impact of island location on students’ higher education choices and subsequent career narratives: a case study of the Orkney and Shetland Islands

Aim: To identify how living in a remote island community (the Orkney or Shetland Islands) prior to entering higher education impacts on students’ narratives of their higher education choices and subsequent career journeys.

Methodology: The project is ethnographic in principle. There are four stages in  the research:

  1. An initial survey of final year undergraduates from Orkney and Shetland collecting some data about higher education choices and anticipated career pathways.
  2. Follow up interviews with twenty students (hopefully ten from Orkney and ten from Shetland), conducted at around the point of graduation.
  3. Subesequent interviews six months later with these students
  4. Final interviews one year after graduation with these students.


Analysis: The project will use narrative methods, and narrative analysis. Narrative analysis is a way of researching how individuals construct their stories about themselves and their lives. Through this approach I hope to find out how people construct their experiences, and how they construct their higher education, career and migration decisions.

Objectives: This study has a number of objectives. Broadly these could be summarised as understanding how and why some students decide to leave the islands for higher education and some stay, and how students then decide where to live and work after they graduate.

Background: Understanding higher education choices and migration decisions is important because of the high level of out-migration of young people pursuing higher education from Orkney and Shetland and from the Highlands and Islands more generally (HIE, 2009). Although some of these students subsequently return to their home communities, many do not and attracting new graduates back to the islands has also been identified as a priority to ensure the sustainability of the island communities in the future (HIE,2009b). Migration decisions are complex, as are career decisions, and although there is quite a bit of research looking at careers or migration, there is not a very much research into the interrelation of migration and career decisions. By looking at these topics from the point of view of understanding individual decision making and the stories people tell about themselves this research project will enable a more holistic approach to understanding decision making. It is anticipated that this research will result in a greater understanding of higher education, career and  migration issues as these relate to the two island  communities, and inform policy development and services for the future.

Supervised by: Professor Tristram Hooley, University of Derby and Dr Siobhan Neary, University of Derby.

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