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Linking career planning and scientific thinking: An approach to working with science graduates

Jackie Hartley, Careers Centre Employability Manager at Staffordshire University, explains how she has developed a new approach to working with science undergraduates, working closely with Paul Orsmond, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Sciences at Staffordshire University.


In my role I spend a lot of time teaching career planning on courses across all our different faculties. A few years ago, I began to question my own practice of tending to use one model of career planning for all our students, regardless of their academic discipline. (I use the DOTS model in line with the AGCAS Careers Education Benchmark Statement 2005.)

Slowly, based on work I was doing, for example on personal branding training with students taking creative courses, the idea of tailoring careers management teaching to the academic discipline began to take hold in my thinking.

A scientific approach

With this in mind, I began to discuss the idea of a scientific approach to career planning with Paul Orsmond. We decided to work together to explore whether there was an approach to career learning that might resonate well with science students. Paul showed me that there is a scientific process that scientists use as a framework to structure the way they deal with scientific problems and research.

After carefully studying this process, I mapped a simplified version of this model on to a career planning process and found that they worked together quite well (see the full article below for an example). This was really exciting for me because I began to see that it might be possible to get science students to think of career planning as a process of scientific research and to tackle it in the same way they would tackle a science problem.

A trial run

It was agreed that I could pilot this approach with one of Paul's teaching groups. I opened the session by explaining why science graduates are a real asset for any employer because of the way they think. I described how a science graduate, using a scientific process, can add real value to a company even working in a wide range of non-scientific roles and I gave a number of examples. This caught their attention.

Next, I talked them through the scientific process diagram and then put them into groups and asked them to design an experiment to test a careers hypothesis. I gave them a choice of hypotheses including: 'People who want to work in the pharmaceutical industry must have qualifications in chemistry' and 'It's better to have a business studies background if you want to work in the financial sector'.


For me, the most positive outcome from this session was that I could see that some of the students really got it and were intrigued by the connection between their scientific education and career planning. Listening in on the group discussions I overheard comments like:

"This statement is too broad - the pharmaceutical industry is huge with different branches, we need to specify which branch."

"How much evidence do you need? If one person tells you this is the case, is that enough? Is one source enough?"

So, although it is still very early days, I am now convinced we can develop a tailored approach to careers work with our science students that should resonate better with them and create a stronger audience for the careers message.

Broader implications

My view of how I should be approaching my work with science students has changed. Clearly, the whole degree should deliver employability and not just some careers or employability module stitched into it somewhere. And, if employability is carried on the back of the discipline, then the careers elements might gain impact and credibility if they are more highly tailored to resonate with each discipline.

I am now looking to embed this approach in the work we do with the School of Science. Clearly, there is a long way to go with this but the future looks interesting.

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Tags: AGCAS Sector University Staffordshire University science career planning careers education

Created on: 08 May 2014

Last updated: 09 May 2014

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