Pedagogy for Employability

I’ve just been having a look at an interesting paper produced by the HEA entitled Pedagogy for Employability. This was originally produced as a kind of series guide to the HEA’s Learning and Employability series.


The paper makes the point that, for higher education, it is not just the decision to focus on employability that matters, it is also the way in which employability is taught. As Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message” and so when we are teaching people employability skills it matters not just what we are teaching them, but also how we go about doing this teaching.


In addition to this the paper makes the point that it is possible to teach employability skills within the context of a subject discipline. In fact the argument is made that there is “no undue tension between a concern with good learning in a subject and an interest in promoting employability”.


Another important issue that is raised by the paper is the fact that the teaching of employability intersects strongly with students’ previous experience. So if we are teaching a mature student about their career they are likely to have a lot more to draw on (and potentially to overcome) than a standard 18 year old undergraduate. The pedagogies that we adopt in dealing with employability need to recognise this diversity of experience, acknowledge it and utilise it if possible. Similarly the context for employability pedagogies are changed as you move from liberal arts to science to vocationally focused educational contexts.


All of this discussion is very well but is doesn’t necessarily establish a curriculum of areas that employability teaching should focus on. One answer would be to ask employers and to base what goes on in higher education on what the paper calls their “wish lists”. However, the paper goes on to argue that employers are not necessarily consistent in their demand and frequently say that they want skills that their actual recruitment and management processes do not reward. Furthermore the creation of lists of skills can downplay the diversity of employers needs and fail to recognise that these needs are dynamic and ever changing.


However, why teach students employability skills? Surely the investment in their education that is made by higher education is sufficient to provide them with considerable advantage in the labour market. The paper argues that higher education does have considerable labour market returns, but that these are dependent on a number of factors including the institution attended, subject studied and a variety of the usual suspects (class, ethnicity etc). The argument is therefore made that supporting employability and transition to the labour market offers advantages in terms of social mobility.


If it is possible to improve graduates employability and doing so increases social mobility, then it is probably a worthwhile endeavour that HEIs should be engaged in. However, this paper does not suggest that a wholesale overhaul of the HE curriculum is needed (or possible). Rather it focuses on what individual programmes, modules or academics can do to enhance employability within the existing paradigm. The paper then goes on to frame the task of teaching employability skills in terms of an entitlement that students should be able to expect. In essence, students should be entitled to provision that contributes to their employability in three broad ways:

  • fostering a continuing willingness to learn;
  • developing a range of employability-related capabilities and attributes; and
  • promoting confidence in reflecting on and articulating these capabilities and attributes in a range of recruitment situations.

Whether this can really be seen as a student entitlement is questionable, but it clearly offers some areas for action by educators who seek to develop their students’ employability.


The paper then reviews the kinds of educational interventions that can contribute to enhanced student employability. The following are suggested:

  • Work experience
  • Work-based learning
  • Employability interventions that have strong connections to the academic curriculum.
  • Holistic and experiential learning approaches that connect across the length of a programme of study.
  • Group-based and peer based learning
  • Generally positive experiences of learning new things
  • Personal development planning processes
  • Assessment of employability skills        


One issue is that as we broaden the definition of what constitutes employability skills, it ends up encompassing almost everything. Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic are all employability skills. So are talking, presenting, using computers and so on. Given that employability skills are everywhere there is a danger that academics get let off the hook and end up just ticking boxes to say that they do it all already. However there is probably an important second stage of metacognition and contextualisation whereby students are encouraged to see how their skills might transfer and fit into different contexts such as the workplace. Without this element, it is probably difficult to say that you are really delivering employability skills. At their best, PDP type processes can be one of the places where this kind of metacognition and connection building can take place.


The paper finishes up with an exploration of a series of case studies that outline some of this issues and set out some ways forward.


There is clearly a lot of debate about graduate employability in these times of increasing fees and economic challenge. This paper sets out some of the key thinking that HEIs need to do in this area. Where it has got to since the publication of the paper and where it goes next perhaps needs further thought still.  


Blogging about PhDs: An interview with Sarah-Louise Quinnell

I bumped into Sarah-Louise as part of the online preparations for #dr11. She runs a very good blog called PhD2Published for new PhD graduates. I thought that it was probably time to interview her. So here we go… 

AiCD: Who are you?
My name is Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell, I gained my PhD from the Geography Department at King’s College London in 2010 and my research interests lie in two very distinct and diverse areas, specifically international environmental politics and development practice and planning and geographies of cyber-space, particularly using social media applications for research and researcher development. 

AiCD: Tell us a little bit about PhD2Published?
PhD2Published is an online resource designed to provide advice / guidance and information to newly qualified / early-career researchers looking to navigate their way through the sometimes confusing world of academic publishing. 

AiCD: You took over PhD2Published from someone else. How did that happen?
By chance really, I was asking for viva advice and approached phd2published on twitter and then got an email from Charlotte who gave me very useful advice and told me about the site and as she says chased me relentlessly to take part and i began working on the site in January 2011. I come from a different academic discipline to Charlotte and i am approaching the issue of publishing in a different way so i am using the site to provide advice, to learn things for myself and to provide a record of my journey through the world of academic publishing.


AiCD: What technology do you use for your blogs/website?
I have a personal blog as well as managing Phd2Published i also contribute to – I like the wordpress environment, while i have programming skills i dont wan’t to spend ages coding before i can upload something so i find this environment works best for me. I will be moving my site to a self-hosted format soon and am currently developing a site to support my social media project that will be part of PhD2Published.


AiCD: Why did you start blogging?
I started as part of my PhD research. I couldnt go on conventional overseas fieldwork for a number of reasons so i had to look at alternative approaches for conducting my research i.e. collecting data and communicating with my research participants. So in tandom with a web-developer i created my own digital / virtual research environment. 

AiCD: How often do you update your blog?
My personal one has been a slow burner post PhD but am now trying to get material up there at least twice a week depending on what i am doing. For PhD2Published it vaires but normally between 2-3 different pieces of content a week and for the thesiswhisperer i post normally once a week. 



AiCD: OK, that is a lot of writing. Wouldn’t you be better off just concentrating on writing academic articles?
A lot of the work i do in advance, especially for PhD2Published. Am currently working on a paper and a grant proposal as we speak as well as job hunting. I find they dont take a lot of time so i can have a blog day once a week. Because i blogged and wrote online during my PhD it has become a habit to post different things online regularly. I believe it acts like a mini peer-review in some cases and is extremely useful. For example i recently contributed a summary of my work to the twitter #phdchat community and that piece generated a lot of helpful commentary. I think the way academics present themselves and their research out-puts is changing and while the journal article and the authored book will always remain supreme the blog is gaining ground as an essential research communication platform and i think you can get just as much out of blogging as you can from other, more traditional outputs.

AiCD: What sort of things do you write about?

The personal one is about ‘life and times of an aspiring academic’ so it acts a bit like a journal where i can keep a record of things I am doing as well as writing my views on a range of subjects relating to my interests, particularly education, social media, ballroom dancing and sheep. PhD2Published is focused on academic publishing. I am currently working toward my first journal article so content is very much skewed toward that angle at the moment. For the thesiswhisperer i write about issues relating to supervision. 

AiCD: How do you decide which blog to post something on?

Well, if its about publishing it goe son PhD2Published, if its about supervisision its for the thesis whisperer if it falls into the any other business or none of the above categories it is mine 

AiCD: Who do you think reads it?

I always wonder about personal ones, the extent to which they are read by more than people you know so am not sure but PhD2Published and the thesis whisperer have very large audiences mainly of PhD students and early career academics. 

AiCD: What is it about you that makes you think that people should listen to what you have to say

With the thesis whisperer i write about PhD supervision, and well, my experience was interesting shall we say so i feel i can contribute to that. I am not afraid of controversial topics such as a post i wrote on how to divorce your supervisior which was very popular and helped a lot of people out. For PhD2Published rather than saying i am a publishing expert i say I am an early career researcher so lets do this together, i would think that if i dont know something to do with publishing other people wont either. I think blogging is either about being an expert and providing advice or being brave and saying i dont have a clue and asking questions.

AiCD: Does anyone come to PhD2Published expecting you to be an expert? Some people might feel that they would only listen to you if you were either a publisher or a world leading professor.

I doubt it, i present myself clearly as someone in the same position as those using the site to find information. We can show that the advice given on the site works because Charlotte has secured her first book contract. We also work with published academics and publishing houses who provide us with content, particularly their experiences and top tips so they get questions and musings from me as well as expert opinion as well. Many of the recent expert posts have come from my asking a question and then looking for someone to respond. I take time out to email academics and publishing houses to get their advice as well. 

AiCD: What have been the best things about blogging?

I’ve met some wonderful people through blogging and a number of opportunities have become available because people have read my work online which gives me good exposure at this point in my career

AiCD: What are the downsides?

Criticism, you open yourself up to being criticised by anybody and everybody if they so wish and sometimes its quite harsh and personal for no reason at all and that can be hard to take. 

AiCD: How do you make your living? Does blogging pay?
I am currently doing some teaching / training at my former university while looking for a full-time job post PhD along with preparing publications and grant applications and being glad i have supportive parents. Whilst i have gained a number of opportunities through blogging none of them have been paid. It would be wonderful if through blogging i could gain paid employment or consultancy however, i think the nature of blogging is more about the sharing of information within a like-minded community so i value the exposure i have recieved just as much as i would financial gain. Obviously if somebody was interested in paying me for my writing then i would be most agreeable!

AiCD: What blogs do you read?

lots, i tend to find new ones all the time but i probably dont read them all regularly it will depend on what i am doing. A lot of the time i am directed to new and interesting material through twitter

AiCD: OK then, suggest some people we should be following on Twitter.

Well, thats hard as i enjoy tweets from all that i follow / follow me but  well @phd2published obviously, @thesiswhisperer, @readywriting, @GdnHigherEd, @linkhigher, @floating_sheep, @lambwatch, @PostDocsForum, @Eurodoc, @prospects, @wonkhe, @haggismaths, @postgradtoolbox, @ProfBrianCox, @charlottefrost and my inspiration since the age of 11 @the_karenhardy.

Global graduate school: A proposal to build a discipline

I’ve now spent about two years as a member of the academic/research discipline of careers/career development/career guidance. I’ve been having a blast and have met loads of really interesting people from across the world. I won’t list them in case I offend anyone, but there is a real community of scholars out there all thinking about how careers work and what kind of educational and counselling interventions we can make to help them work better.


However, I can’t help feel that careers isn’t quite a discipline. Some of this is for really good reasons as careers is at the borderline between different disciplines. If you are thinking about careers you need a psychologist, a labour market economist, a sociologist and so on. If you are attempting to influence people’s careers you might need an educationalist, a counsellor, a marketing expert or a behavioural economist. In short people can come to careers from a wide range of perspectives. This is what makes the discipline interesting, valuable and relevant. However it also means that people are spread pretty thin. Lots of people have other allegiances and see careers as an interest or a theme in their research rather than a context for it.


I’m not someone who is particularly keen on disciplinary boundaries and so careers is an area that appeals to me. Having said that I do look at the discipline and wonder whether it will endure into the future. A lot of the people who are currently associated with it came together in the 1970s and 1980s and have dominated the area since. The next generation of careers scholars looks decidedly more shaky.


It is perhaps worth thinking about what makes up a discipline. I suppose that we might advance some of the following:

  • Shared conceptual frameworks
  • Common journals and other publication routes
  • Regular conferences
  • Collaboration
  • Social connections


All of this boils down to having a common conversation. In essence you are in the same discipline as someone else if you talk to them (and read them and write for them) more than you do with other people. So, I’m interested in learning technology and in higher education pedagogy and policy, but I spend most of my time in the careers world, thinking careers thoughts and talking to careers people. So I’d say that careers is home and the other areas are places I got to enrich my work. If I spent all of my time in the HE policy I would drift away, stop going to careers conferences and generally stop being part of the conversation.


So if the careers discipline is going to keep going from strength to strength it is going to need to find a way to draw together a new generation of academics and engage them in a common conversation. Given that research interest in careers is scattered across the world both inside of universities and out this is difficult. New entrants to a discipline take a while to establish themselves, situate themselves within the debates, publish and make connections. If they are going to join the conversation that is taking place in the careers discipline they probably need to be helped to find their way to it and supported to start engaging.


One of the problems is that the careers discipline is so spread out. It is easy to sit in your own department, mixing only with people in one area (e.g. education or psychology) and miss out altogether on the fact that there is this really interesting multi-disciplinary conversation going on about careers. If we are not careful these people will form their disciplinary identities as psychologists or educationalists and see careers as just one project they did early on in their career. Obviously this is fine for those that want it, but they should at least be exposed to the interesting conversations that are going on in the careers area and have an opportunity to take part in them.


What I think that we need is to host a global teach in for early career researchers who are interested in the field of careers. Let’s take them away for a week somewhere nice, expose them to some of the leading lights in the fields, have some discussions and debates and most of all allow them to get to know each other. The social and professional capital that would be built up in that week would probably last the discipline for the next 30 years. Friendships would be made, alliances built, debates mapped out and collaborations forged. It would in short, glue us all together for the future.


Obviously a global gathering of this kind doesn’t come cheap. It would require researchers to be able to fund travel and expenses and for someone to pay to organise and host 50-100 researchers from across the globe. But, just imagine the possibilities. I think it would be worth a go and I’d like to hear from anyone else who agrees. If the idea is good enough, then we’ll find the money. And if the idea isn’t good enough then suggest how we can make it better.

Interview with Tracy Bussoli: Queen Mary Researchers Career Blog

Last year I interviewed Tracy Bussoli about the blog that she ran at Queen Mary University of London. This was a really good careers blog for researchers. Unfortunately I then lost the interview and haven’t posted it. But, I found it again and put it up. Unfortunately Tracy has now moved on and the blog isn’t being updated any more. But, it is presented here because Tracy’s interview provides some really interesting insights into blogging.


AiCD:  Introduce yourself

My name is Tracy Bussoli and I am the Careers Adviser for Researchers at Queen Mary University of London. I support PhD students and research staff (mainly from the Science and Engineering) in developing both academic careers and careers outside academia. I have a PhD in genetics and was a post-doctoral researcher for a short period. Prior to this post I worked in the NHS as a Genetic Counsellor for eight years as well as doing some free-lance career coaching work. I am also a consultant in a family, property developing business and have worked for Shell and Natwest Bank.


AiCD: Tell us about your blog.

My blog was set up shortly after I took on the role as Careers Adviser for Researchers at Queen Mary. I decided to set it up following an inspiring talk from Manchester Careers Service at a Vitae conference. They talked about the success of their postgraduate careers blog and how it allowed them to disseminate information to postgraduates in a style that was separate from the more generic institutional website.

I find that I frequently come across snippets of information or have ideas that I want to disseminate to the researchers that I see. My blog enables me to do this. I use my blog to post career ideas, resources and tools that I feel would be helpful for researchers as Queen Mary. It is essentially an organised ‘brain dump!’


AiCD: What technology do you use?

My blog uses the WordPress platform. I started off using blogger but I found that I was unable to organise the information in an effective way e.g. there are no tabs at the top of the page on blogger.

My blog also has a twitter feed where I post any interesting jobs that I come across during my research. The more people follow me on twitter, the more encouraged I am to add interesting jobs to my twitter site. The idea is to illustrate the diversity of roles that are available to people with research backgrounds rather than be a dedicated jobs board.

AiCD: How often do you update?

In fits and starts really. As my post at QM is part-time I am often busy interacting with researchers face to face. I do not always get enough time to post all my thoughts, resources and ideas. I often have a list of articles that I want to add but sometimes do not get the time!

AiCD: Who do you think reads it?

Early Careers Researchers from Queen Mary, other Early Career Researchers and Careers Advisers working with Early Career Researchers….probably. From some of the comments left on the blog, other random people also read it from time to time.

AiCD: What are the particular challenges about writing for a high skill audience like researchers

The audience that I write for are highly skilled but I do not feel that this is the main challenge. They come from a variety of countries, are researching across many disciplines and range from 1st year PhD students to more senior post-docs. This presents a number of challenges in terms of what I write about. I try to ensure that the posts have broad appeal, covering career issues that are relevant, irrespective of where people are in their research career. Catering for such a diverse group of highly skilled people is generally a challenge in my work with researchers, in both the workshops that I deliver and career consultations.

AiCD: What is it about you that makes you think people should pay attention to what you blog about

I am not sure if it is me specifically that makes them pay attention to my blog. Having said this, I think that many people start using my blog once they have met me at workshops or at the career consultations that I deliver.

Although I attempt to cover areas related to science and engineering, I think there is probably more of a life-science focus as that is my background and I think that I am naturally more inclined to focus on this. In addition, although I do not feel that you need to have a PhD to offer effective careers advice, I do think that researchers are more likely to engage with someone that has a similar background to them. I probably see more life scientists than other early career researchers and this may be because people know that I was a life scientist.

AiCD: What have been the best things about blogging so far

Having a thought, coming across a resource, attending a talk and then getting this information to researchers quickly before I forget! I also enjoy writing online and it has given me the opportunity to do this.

AiCD: What are the downsides?

The constant pressure to keep the blog up to date!

AiCD: Do you think blogging will ever replace conventional careers advice/education?

I do not think that any online resource (social networking, blogs etc.) can ever substitute for the type of support/help/guidance that you can gain from seeing a skilled careers adviser. If clients see an individual for careers advice/education the service can be adapted and tailored depending on the client’s needs. A careers adviser can offer many things that an on-line service can not e.g. alternative perspectives on a situation, clarity about a situation/dilemma, feedback on skills/ strengths, emotional support ……the list goes on.

I think online resources such as blogs can enhance a careers service. Labour market information, psychometric and careers tools and many other resources are a very useful supplement to a careers service.

AiCD: What blogs do you read?

The other postgraduate careers blogs that are listed on my blog and the blogs on my blogroll. I use these as a source of inspiration and to keep me up-to-date with career resources for researchers.

Interview about blogging for academic/research purposes #bathcr

OK, this is the final post about #bathcr for today. One of the things that I’ve agreed to do is to give a short interview about my experience of academic/research blogging. This will be filmed and then used as a resource in future training of researchers. So I need some questions to answer.

I thought that I might add a series of questions and then see if anyone could add anything. I’ll try and get a version of the output to post on the blog.


  • Who are you and what do you do?
  • Tell us a little about your blog?
  • Why did you start blogging?
  • What blogging tool do you use and why?
  • What benefits have you got from blogging?
  • Why should academics and researchers start blogging?
  • How do you use your blog in your research?
  • How do you use your blog in your teaching?
  • What kinds of things do you write about on your blog?
  • What kinds of comments/interactions do you get around your blog?

What else should I ask/answer?


Talking about social media and researchers at #bathcr

I’m giving a presentation on why researchers should use social media at #bathcr. This is an event/series of events that the University of Bath are organising to help their researchers get their heads round various social media related issues. I’ve been asked to talk because I co-wrote Social Media: A Guide for Researchers.

I’ll be presenting some stuff from the publication and some other bits and pieces that I’ve gathered from elsewhere. I hope that people find it useful.

In this session I’m trying to concentrate on the big conceptual issues. The “why” of social media use rather than talking about tools. I think that people are generally able to puzzle out the tools, but less able to work out what the purpose or potential of it might be. I’m hoping that this presentation will inspire some experimentation rather than explain how to do.

Talking about Twitter and social networking at #bathcr

I’m off to the University of Bath tomorrow to talk about researchers and their use of social media. As part of the day I’m going to run a hands on Twitter workshop. In the main this is going to be about getting people to use Twitter and to start to build up a network that will actually be useful to them.

I’m also hoping to get them to think about how they organise their social/professional networks and what role different online tools have in that process.

Here are the slides that I’m planning to use?