Psychological theories and lay accounts of occupational choice
: a comparative study of mechanical engineering and nursing undergraduates

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Psychological investigation of occupational choice has traditionally followed one of two dominant approaches. The structural (or 'personality-matching') approach (e.g., Holland, 1985) has used pysychometric testing to predict occupational choice on the basis of personality assessments whilst the process (or 'developmental') approach (e.g., Ginzberg et al., 1951) has mainly used interview responses to identify stages in the maturation of vocational thinking culminating 'realistic' decision-making.

    The aim of this study was to test the utility of these approaches in undertaking a detailed analysis of interview data. Garfinkel's (1967) proposal that decisions can be viewed as the retrospective construction of 'sense-able' accounts provided a useful perspective on collected interview responses. A discourse analysis approach was adopted in which the functional nature of language, as achieving interactive purposes, was stressed (Potter and Wetherell, 1987). Finally, use was made of the conversation analytic focus on turn-taking in order to examine the interdependent nature of the question-and-answer turns of the interviews (e.g., Sacks, 1972).

    Forty undergraduate students following the BSc courses in mechanical engineering and nursing at Dundee Institute of Technology were interviewed. The sample consisted of twenty students from each course, ten from the first year and ten from the final year. Comparisons were made between the two vocational groups and between first and final year students. A preliminary examination of course selection interviews was also undertaken.

    The data could not be categorized in accordance with Holland's 'personality patterns' for. mechanical engineering and nursing, nor in terms of Ginzberg's 'realistic stage' of vocational thinking, due to categorization conflicts and within-interview response variability. The apparent contradictions and complexities generated by categorizing responses in these terms were clarified when accounts were analyzed as ongoing constructions of 'sense-able' choices within which 'personality-expressive' and 'developmental-stage' talk served specific conversational functions.

    The findings call into question methods of careers guidance based on these theories and it is argued that attention should be directed at career-selection preparation. However, it should be noted that a focus on the conversational skills required to succeed in selection interviews could challenge faith in a meritocratic selection system.
    Date of AwardMar 1990
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Council for National Academic Awards

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