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Coping with higher educational expectations: Gender, class and challenges in prestigious contexts
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6201-9135
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8426-2275
Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Research topic/Aim: In this paper we explore the challenges of coping with high-status and competitive HE programmes in elite contexts where top achievements are generally taken for granted. We consider how different learning and social contexts are related to students’ experiences of stress, and what kinds of coping strategies are available and used by different groups of students (e.g. class and gender).

Theoretical frameworks: The analysis is informed by sociological stress research (e.g. Pearlin 1989), studies on gender, class and higher education (e.g. Reay et al. 2009) and academic self-concept (e.g. Marsh & Parker, 1984; Eccles 2009).  

Methodology/research design: We draw upon data from a large, ongoing, three-year (2015-2018), cross-national (Sweden and England) comparative interview project that investigates how constructions of masculinities and student identities inform strategies for coping with risks of academic failure and/or striving for success. The project focuses on three elite HE programmes: Medicine, Law and Engineering. Data are being generated by focus group interviews and individual interviews with students and staff. The interviews explored: 1) the learning/teaching contexts and cultures; 2) patterns of academic achievement and advice-seeking; 3) assessments and social comparisons; 4) stress and self-worth protecting strategies; 5) gender formations and men’s identities. Data were analyzed in Atlas.ti using a constructivist grounded theory approach to ex­plo­re how male students’ identities and strategies are underpinned by the indivi­dual, interactional and institutional orders in the different contexts.

Expected conclusions/Findings: Our data suggest that students knew that the programmes would be demanding and many students reporting choosing them because they wanted to be challenged academically. However, most had not anticipated the challenges they would face in terms of their academic identities. The transition to the new environment meant that most students had to negotiate a change from being a top student to being an ‘average’ or ‘low’ achiever, and many struggled with trying to find a sustainable work/rest balance. Students used a multitude of strategies which we explore in this paper; e.g. increased academic effort and withdrawal from other activities; displaying calmness and engagement in the programme communities; concealing poor test results; and also, seeking academic and emotional support from peers. While gendered discourses of ‘effortless achievement’ and detachment from studies were regarded as less prominent than in schooling, hiding stress and effort were described as especially common for men and associated with masculinity.

Relevance for Nordic Educational Research: By examining undergraduate stress and well-being in prestigious contexts, we will begin to shed more light on (1) how privilege are maintained, reinforced, and might be challenged, and, also, (2) the pressures and demands on many middle-class young people and the effects on their wellbeing.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
Learning Sociology Gender Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-339931OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-339931DiVA, id: diva2:1177077
Conference
NERA 2017 the 45th: Congress, Learning and education – material conditions and consequences, 23-25 March 2017, Copenhagen
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 2014-2476Available from: 2018-01-24 Created: 2018-01-24 Last updated: 2018-02-28Bibliographically approved

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Kalat, Anne-SofieSalminen-Karlsson, Minna

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