Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice

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Turning points in career and migration decisions

I have just read two quite different research papers, the first by Christopher Atkin looks at young people’s decisions at post-sixteen from a rural community and the second by Catriona Ni Laoire, looks at the phenomenon of return migration to the Republic of Ireland.

So, these are quite different pieces of research right? The first looks at choices of young people from a rural area, and the other looks at adults originally from a rural area and their decision to return to that area after a period of time away. However there are some similarities that I noticed:

  1. Both pieces of research take a biographical perspective: looking at participant’s stories about their decisions and how they came to make them.
  2. Both pieces of research identify a great deal of complexity in terms of the relationship of individuals to places. In both pieces of research the particularly salient feature of place seems to be the family and friendship networks that exist in the rural ‘home’ of participants rather than other factors (e.g. physical environment).
  3. Both pieces of research note the importance of family and friends on decision making. Family and friendship networks are heavily influential in terms of post sixteen choices of rural young people. Family is also heavily influential in terms of the decision of older migrants to return ‘home’.
'Turning points' are key to Hodkinson's idea of 'careership'. Image courtesy of phanlop88 at

‘Turning points’ are key to Hodkinson’s idea of ‘careership’. Image courtesy of phanlop88 at


Alongside these similarities both pieces of research note that individual decisions may be heavily influenced by key ‘turning points’ in individual’s biographies. Atkin notes that grammar school selection, the divorce of parents or bereavement all act as “‘life changing’ moments” for participants in his study. For Ni Laoire, she takes a life-course perspective on migration which more generally identifies that choices are made at the intersection between ‘the individual life course, the family life-cycle and historical time’. This makes turning points more fundamental to her work, and in particular she notes stimuli like the breakdown of a relationship or having children as turning points that stimulate the return migration.

As Hodkinson notes, the notion of turning points is one that is drawn on in many life-course studies (Hodkinson, 1997: 39). He describes turning points as times when ‘a person goes through a significant transformation of identity’. From this perspective, biographical development is not uniform, but marked by periods of stability (and routine) interspersed with significant changes – a kind of ‘biographical discontinuity’ (Alheit).  Although these ideas aren’t drawn upon directly by Atkin, it is clear that in his notion of “‘life changing’ moments” has some relation to turning points.

Hodkinson goes on to note different kinds of turning points:

    1. Structural: that is those prompted by social and cultural structures, like the end of compulsory schooling in Atkins’ study.
    2. Self-initiated:  that is the person themselves prompts a transition, perhaps like the choice to return to Ireland in Ni Laoire’s study.
    3. Forced: that is those forced by external events or the actions of others, for example parental divorce in Atkins’ study.

The interesting thing here is that where turning points are noted as important in biographical approaches to migration (such as Ni Laoire’s), Hodkinson discusses turning points in terms of career decisions. Indeed, I wonder how far single turning points may be important in both career and migration decisions. There are certainly clear examples of where structural turning points impact on career and migration decisions – such as the end of A level / Highers and the consequent decisions to enter Higher Education (because what university students decide to  join is is both a career and a migration decision). On the other hand self-initiated turning points – such as the decision to leave higher education prematurely and return home – may also involve both migration and career decisions. Further, if as Hodkinson suggests turning points are points where there is a ‘significant transformation of identity’ it can be surmised that in many cases changed identity may impact both on career and migration decisions – and an example of this might be the eleven plus examinations identified by Atkin as a “life changing” moment – at this point a young person may be identified as academically able, and this will structure their career decisions, in  particular making university entry more likely, and therefore also leading to potential migration for higher education.


Ni Laoire, C (2008) ”Settling back?’ A biographical and life-course perspective on  Ireland’s recent return migration’ in Irish Geography 41(2)

Atkin, C (2002) ‘The influence of regional culture on post-sixteen educational choices and directions from school in Lincolnshire: a qualitative study’ PhD thesis

Hodkinson and Sparkes (1997) ‘Careership: A Sociological Theory of Career Decision Making’


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Older siblings and graduate transitions

How prepared are graduates for entry to the working world? Do expectations meet reality? In my experience the answer almost universally to these questions is not very prepared and that expectations don’t meet reality. I was discussing this with a recent graduate this week over coffee, and we were talking about how to address these issues. What we concluded was that knowing people who graduate before you can be helpful in giving first hand insight into the realities of the working world. Specifically we thought that there could be particular value in having an older sibling who graduates and enters the working world a couple of years before you. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I guess it’s probably true that the experience of observing the progress of older siblings can be very helpful in understanding your own situation when it comes to preparing for graduation….

This thought came back to me today as I was reading about graduate migration in a paper by Bond, Charsley & Grundy, 2008. In this paper the authors propose three factors for understanding migration: Opportunities (in terms of perceived opportunities for graduate level employment), Connections (to different places through friends and family etc) and Expectations (in terms of anticipated futures). This got me thinking… I haven’t seen it spelt out like this before, but connections are very important. Often when I’m working with students who are thinking about moving, they are anxious about setting up in a new place, and often this process is made a lot easier if there is someone they can stay with while they get on their feet. And this was when I suddenly wondered again – are older siblings particularly important in this respect too? In Bond et al’s report one of the quotes they use is from someone who decided to move to London because his brother was living there, and I thought about my younger brother who when he moved to London, initially lived with my other brother too… perhaps there is a particular avenue for research on the role of older siblings and graduate transitions?