Meet a new Staff Tutor in the School, Alison Gisby, who tells us about her PhD research in Occupational Psychology.
Tell us about your interests and the area of psychology that you work in. My specialism is Occupational Psychology. This field of psychology is vast and involves working with organisations and the people who work in them. There are quite a few specialist sub-areas that Occupational Psychologists can work in such as ergonomics, personnel management, careers, training and development etc. My interests are in learning and career development, particularly how people learn following a complex career change i.e. having changed occupation.
What are your current projects? I’m in the end stages of completing my PhD in Occupational Psychology where I’m researching how individuals who change occupation use informal learning processes to regain career success.
The reason for focusing on this area comes from both my own experience of occupational change – I moved from HR into teaching (High School and Higher Education) some years ago – and from speaking with countless people who’ve chosen to change occupation later in life e.g. moving from being an Accountant to becoming a teacher, or a Nurse who decided to become an Academic.
Changing occupation used to be something that was done only rarely but in recent decades more people have started to reconsider what they do for a living and whether this needs to be fixed i.e. the same across their entire working life. More people now reflect on what they want in life e.g. more challenge, greater authenticity, work-life-balance etc, as well as on the things they’d like to accomplish in life e.g. get a degree, retrain to become x, y or z. It is something that can happen at any point in a person’s life/career but more mature people now also take the plunge too and this is where my interest lies.
Of course, it isn’t necessarily a straightforward process, particularly since it can mean moving from having been an expert in one occupation to becoming a novice in another. Quite a scary prospect for some! This makes it an important area of Occupational Psychology. We need to understand the process that occupational changers go through and the sorts of challenges they face, for instance what motivates them to change occupation, how they think about career success, and how they become confident and competent in their new occupation i.e. how they learn. My study will help inform organisations about how to support occupational changers as they embark on their new career journey, as well as help career changers themselves who – despite making the leap – may still feel quite daunted. Knowing ‘what works’ for other career changers (i.e. the approaches they’ve taken to regain success) and that you are not alone will hopefully reassure new career changers, as well as put things into perspective for those looking back on their experience.
What were you doing before you came to the Open University? I’ve now worked for the Open University for ten years, as an Associate Lecturer on OU undergraduate modules in psychology and education. It’s a job I love. I enjoy working with students who are new to studying Psychology but also with those new to studying at degree level. It’s wonderful to see students transform – from being not very confident at the beginning of a module to feeling far more self-assured at the end. I’ve also lectured in other Higher Education contexts, I’ve taught Psychology at A-level, and I’ve worked in Human Resources – all of which connect to my interest and research in Occupational Psychology.
What are your views of the OU experience? I gained my Psychology degree from the OU as a mature student many years ago. What made the OU stand out for me when I was considering doing a degree was the flexibility to study around my job (I studied one module at a time over six years while working full-time), the very high standard of the module materials, and the support I would receive from tutors. It was a challenge and there were certainly times when I questioned what I was doing but, overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience and I learnt a huge amount; both about Psychology but also about myself. I felt a real mix of relief and elation when I graduated! Like many OU graduates I then caught the ‘studying bug’ and went on to complete post-graduate study (an MEd and an MSc in Occupational Psychology) … and most recently a PhD.
What are your plans for teaching and research in the School? I’ll be continuing to teach at Level 1, on DE100, and I’ll be doing some of my own research. First, when I’ve completed my PhD, I expect to write some journal articles based on that. I’ll also maintain my connections with the Social Psychology of Education Research Group at the University of Worcester. We’re working on a project which will explore the reasons why school teachers (across all career phases) choose to remain in the teaching profession and how this relates to the development of individual and collective identity.