Transition to Postgraduate Study: Postgraduate Ecological Systems and Identity

Jane Tobbell, Victoria L. O'Donnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores and examines the distal and proximal systems which construct social science postgraduate study in the UK and analyses the emergent identities of postgraduate students as they negotiate the multiple and interacting practices in their transition to study. The data represent part of a one-year research project, funded by the Higher Education Academy, in which staff and students from five UK universities participated. The paper takes a socio-cultural perspective and situates staff and students in the wider macro context of policy and practice surrounding postgraduate study as well as exploring the micro processes which construct the proximal experience of the transition. We argue that the silence surrounding postgraduate transition in the literature must be addressed in light of existing literature and the present research, both of which suggest that the systems which construct postgraduate study are complex and challenging to students, who do not always receive the support they require. We discuss the practices which implicitly assume expertise in postgraduate students in contrast to student self-identification as confused and struggling. Commonalities with other educational transitions are identified but we argue that there are distinct aspects to postgraduate transition which require greater breadth of research with both successful and unsuccessful postgraduate students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-138
Number of pages16
JournalCambridge Journal of Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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