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
- 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.