How envisionment of the future influences professional identity development : a longitudinal study of students’ graduate work in a social science field
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This dissertation study is a longitudinal qualitative investigation of how graduate students in a social science field construct their professional identity. Among the different identities that individuals construct and have imposed upon them, their professional identity may be more distinct as compared to other identities such as gender roles, position of caretaker, and ethnicity that may develop over a longer period of time and be more diffuse. One’s professional identity is likely to become a central identity because it provides agency, power, and a socially respected position in a particular disciplinary field and in society at large. This investigation of graduate students’ disciplinary development was designed to contribute to a better understanding of the process of professional identity development. Doctoral students in a social science field were chosen as participants because they were likely to undergo intensive identity construction processes in a short time period of time. In this staggered longitudinal study, the total number of participants was 34. Participants were tracked across milestones over at least two semesters of their program. Data collection included multiple interviews, member checking, and observation of students’ activities in content classes, research meetings, social gatherings, and professional conference participation according to distinct stages that occur over time. Analyzed using grounded theory methodology, data are presented in three themes representing significant influences on professional identity development. For the first theme, graduate students’ professional identity seemed to progress through phases marked by milestones. In Theme 2, graduate students’ professional identity seemed to develop through interactions with other individuals in several learning communities. In Theme 3, graduate students seemed to forge their professional identity through their program experiences, defining their professional self as the acquisition of self-knowledge and self-regulation skills (being professional), disciplinary knowledge and skills (being a professional), and envisionment of a professional future self participating in a community of practice. Development of professional disciplinary skills including disciplinary discourse practices appeared as a core contributor for students’ professional identity development. Generalizable professional skills seemed more subtle and foundational for the other two factors (professional skills acquisition and professional affiliation). Individuals who developed both professional skills and professional affiliation seemed to have a strong professional identity. In addition, data indicated that as graduate students underwent the professional identity process, they seemed more motivated to take up their academic responsibilities and participate in their professional field. In sum, the contribution of this study is that different influences on graduate students’ professional identity development were shown, and a clearer view of the overall professional identity development process was obtained, including what factors are influencing graduate students’ professional identity development as well as their possible future self in their disciplinary community of practice.