Graduate voices: the nexus between learning and work
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 15:45 authored by Leigh Norma Wood
The aim of this study is to inform curriculum change in the mathematical sciences at university level. This study examines the transition to professional work after gaining a degree in the mathematical sciences. Communication is used as the basis for the analysis of the transition because of the importance of language choices in work situations. These experiences form part of the capabilities that become part of a person's potential to work as a professional. I found a subtle form of power and, of the opposite, lack of power due to communication skills. It is not as obvious as in, say, politics but it is just as critical to graduates and to the mathematical sciences. -- There were 18 participants in the study who were graduates within five years of graduation with majors in the mathematical sciences. In-depth interviews were analysed using phenomenography and examples of text from the workplace were analysed using discourse analysis. Descriptions of the process of gaining employment and the use of mathematical discourse have been reported in the thesis using narrative style with extensive quotes from the participants. -- The research shows that graduates had three qualitatively different conceptions of mathematical discourse when communicating with a non-mathematical audience: jargon, concepts/thinking and strength. All participants modified their use of technical terms when communicating with non-mathematicians. Those who held the jargon conception tried to simplify the language in order to explain the mathematics to their audience. Those who held the concepts/thinking conception believed that the way of thinking or the ideas were too difficult to communicate and instead their intention with mathematical discourse was to inspire or sell their ability to work with the mathematics. The strength conception considers the ethical responsibility to communicate the consequences of mathematical decisions. Not one of the participants believed that they had been taught communication skills as part of their degree. -- Participants gained a 'mathematical identity' from their studies and acquiring a degree gave them confidence and a range of problem-solving skills. Recommendations are made about changes in university curriculum to ensure that graduates are empowered to make a high-quality transition to the workplace and be in a position to use their mathematical skills. Mathematical skills are necessary but not sufficient for a successful transition to the workplace. Without the ability to communicate, graduates are unable to release the strength of their knowledge.