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September 25, 2013

Career Change in College

by Angel Pumila

Career Change in College

Angel Pumila

Project Overview

The manner in which education is delivered has evolved over the years, changing from a fact-recall setting to an integrative learning experience that combines newly acquired knowledge with application to personal experiences and viewpoints. This model adds an element of diversity to education to create a holistic approach to learning. “Emphasis on the lived experience of the scientific “observer” links the power of scientific knowing with the feelings we have before a work of art and the compassion we feel for those who suffer, a shift of perspective whose implications are pivotal for higher education” (Palmer, 2010, p. 11). Still, many students travel through their program with an element missing that is not discovered until they are fully vested. How do you know that the degree choice you have made will be something you still wish to pursue after graduation?  This project will address issues such as program change of college students, career satisfaction after graduation, career change throughout the lifespan, and suggest models to lower the instances of career change by incorporating project findings in the classroom.  


The Issue

Recently, it was mentioned that someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology is assumed to know therapy practices and procedures. That would also imply that a person studying biology would know how to practice medicine or perform surgeries. Yet, this is not the case. What if, after four years in an undergraduate program, the student realizes that their professional path does not suit them? How can we introduce students into their future profession early on so that they may have a fully appreciation of what it means to be a doctor, psychologist, accountant, engineer, etc.? This project aims to not only add knowledge and personal experience to the classroom, but also a glimpse into what it means to achieve your professional path goals.


The Setting

The setting for this project will be the undergraduate classroom, although it can be applied to postgraduate work as well.  It is appropriate to measure and apply these concepts to the college classroom as it sets the stage for the professional career.  While the use of this project can be applied in many subject areas, here the setting will be an Introduction to Psychology undergraduate course for beginning psychology majors. 


Theoretical Framework

Lifespan Development Theory

The lifespan development theory describes the change in career choice and/or career satisfaction as a linear change in individual adaptations and maturation over a lifespan (Jepsen, 2003, p. 217).  Adaptive contributions to change include a changing economy and life experiences.  On the other hand, maturation encompasses cognitive viewpoint and emotional reaction to these experiences.  In the end, researchers found that choice clarity was positively correlated to coping behaviors as they relate to the workplace and impact career stability over time.  It is choice clarity that education officials should provide to students in order to optimize levels of career stability over time.


“Learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes, should be reflective of underlying social environments” (Siemens, 2004, p. 1). Siemens (2004) finds that people branch off into fields that may be unrelated to their course of study. He also mentions that the majority of learning throughout a lifetime is received outside of the classroom (Siemens, 2004, p. 2). The theory of Connectivism involves learning from multiple sources by applying elements of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism into one theory and developing them further. It suggests that learning happens in a variety of ways as the student actively combines information acquired to create their own interpretation of information (Kop, 2008, p. 3). This theory can be visualized through the use of concept mapping and presented to students in a meaningful way that adds to their existing experiences and reference points.

To incorporate connectivism with the understanding of career choices obtained in the classroom, multiple methods of learning must be considered. The student must learn what the job entails, act as if they are a part of that profession, and identify with experiences related to the career choice.

Attribution Theory

“According to Weiner’s attribution theory, people often seek to explain outcomes and events in their environment, especially those events that are novel, important, or unexpected” (Luzzo, 1996, p. 415).  By using environment as a context for defining career options, students create a mental representation of what it means to be in a particular professional setting based upon past experiences. Often these cognitive representations are incorrect.  By using internal models as a basis for career choice, the decision-making process excludes actual factors related to the career.  This can cause career change once the student is exposed to the realistic environment.

Researchers Luzzo, James, and Luna (1996) tested this theory using an attribution retaining method by having participants view a video designed to create internal attributions towards different career choices.  The control group viewed a similar video without the involvement of career attributions.  It was found that the creation of internal attributions played a significant role in the decision-making process.  These findings can be used in the classroom as a means to create realistic career characteristics and settings in order to increase the likelihood of proper career choice.

Dougherty, Dreher, and Whitely (1993) studied the contributions of early-career changes of MBA students.  While they found that career change of participants with this particular degree was lower than that of other graduate degrees, they did indicate a reason for career-change of graduate students to be related to an “increased value of their human capital” (Dougherty, et. al, 1993, p. 537).  This points to a lower job commitment of educated employees stemming from job expectations not being met within their career. It is important to understand where these expectations stem from in order to transform this mindset into a more realistic concept of a given profession.

Ethical Leadership

Theories of leadership provide an overview and history of research and findings of leadership. This includes the qualities, behaviors and traits that make up an ethical leader.  Psychologists and educational theorists have evaluated the complex characteristics and adaptations needed to be a leader since the 1930s (Williams, 2006). Through their research, traits of effective leaders have been identified as social intelligence, behavioral flexibility, need for power, energy, cognitive complexity, and persuasiveness (Zaccaro, 2001). These traits contribute to the overall qualities needed to lead in an organizational setting. Leaders influence others in effective behavioral delegation to accomplish necessary task completion by others in order to reach a set goal. In this case, the goal is education and career exploration through the reevaluation of internal career choice models.

Two factors have emerged that define the focus of leadership: being task focused and relationship focused (Williams, 2006). By valuing followers and demonstrating appreciation for their contributions to the task they are being led to complete, leaders create an atmosphere in which projects goals are obtained. These traits are emphasized again when observed in a school setting. According to Oyinlade (2003), effective leadership fits better in educational settings when the leader shows more people-oriented traits than a job-centered focus. The value placed upon the individual follower establishes a setting in which the follower achieves for the intrinsic motivation satisfied through appreciation and appraisal.

Behavior theories focus on “leader behaviors and differed dramatically from the trait approach—moving leadership conceptualization from what a leader is to what a leader does” (Williams, 2006). By observing the actions of a leader, researchers can identify specific behaviors needed to reach organizational goals. While behavioral models provide valuable information on the actions needed to lead, they deemphasize the importance of cognition and motivation.

In relation to integrative learning, leaders are needed to create the setting in which concepts and diversity are blended. They are at the head of the class presenting new knowledge while creating an open setting for insertion of situational experience and application from students. Looking back to the traits and motivational techniques required for such an experience, one can agree that this position takes cognitive complexity, behavioral flexibility and an appreciation for the opinions and experiences of student followers.


Implementation of this project begins with research, continues in the classroom throughout the semester, but does not have a set period to end.  First, the instructor must perform research on career statistics, models, and meanings in order to be able to guide students with an educated foundation for implementation.  Instructors then create an atmosphere of openness and valued diversity to assist students with self-exploration that include personality traits, perceived goals, and career meanings.  Next, individualized projects can be introduced that guide the student to career research.  Once a career is chosen, experiences are added in the form of video modules, career overviews, professional interviews, and/or brief internships for course credit.  By placing value on the individual, creating skills for exploration, and establishing critical thinking processes, students gain the tools needed to make more successful career choices throughout their lifetime.

To apply these methods to the Introduction to Psychology course, a variety of professional outcomes will be presented.  The paths for a career in psychology, as listed by the American Psychological Association, include faculty positions, research, human services in the form of counseling, school psychology, and clinical work (Finno, 2009).  Each position must be clearly defined in terms of day to day duties, professional skills, attributes, and salaries, as well as educational and experience needed for each position.  Next, tools such as the Strong Interest Inventory can be taken “to help students discover their interests, preferences, and personal styles-exactly the information they need to choose a career they can be passionate about” (CPP, 2013). This assessment is commonly used by education institutions to match students to the career that best fits. The following step is the personalized exploration project that will serve as the course project due at the end of the term.  This project will consist of group and individual activities such as professional interviews (individual), video modules (group), and an optional brief internship experience to give each student a closer look at their projected career path and present alternative choices to the class as a whole.


To measure the success of this project, a student evaluation will be given at the beginning and end of the course.  The first will be in a multiple choice and essay form to establish the learner’s understanding of career choices.  The last will be at the end of the semester in the same format, but will have additional questions that cover the material more in-depth.  These assignments will be compared, along with the results of the course project to determine a level of success achieved by the course concepts.  As a method of tracking individual and class career certainty, the Career Decidedness Scale (CDS) will be administered at the end of each semester.  This test measures levels of indecisiveness found in individual career choices (Hartung, 1995, p. 1). These assessments will provide information for areas of improvement to be implemented in future courses.

The Practitioner-Scholar

The practioner-scholar model “focuses on developing scholar-practitioners through learning that incorporates both theoretical knowledge and experience” (Capella, 2013). This is achieved through valuing past experiences, adding new knowledge, and exploring new scenarios that incorporate application of both knowledge and personal experience. This course project will focus on the career choices of students, individual attribution matching, their satisfaction with these choices long-term, and ways in which to help students gain a better understanding of the day to day activities within their future career in order to ensure a better fit. By building ethical relationships through trust and leadership, educators can motivate students to explore the unknown and expand upon previously held ideas of career meanings. When this is done in a deliberate manner of guided exploration, students are better equipped to make long-term career choices that will increase satisfaction and job stability over time.





Capella. (2013). Scholar Practitioner Learning Model. Retrieved from

C.P.P. (2013). Strong Interest Inventory. Retrieved from

Dougherty, T. W., Dreher, G. F., & Whitely, W. (1993). The MBA as careerist: An analysis of early-career job change. Journal Of Management, 19(3), 535-548. doi:10.1016/0149-2063(93)90003-6

Fino, A., Michalski, D., Hart, B. Wicherski, M., & Kohout, J. (2009). Report of the 2009 APA Salary Survey. APA Center for Workforce Studies. Retrieved from

Hartung, P. (1995). Assessing career certainty and choice status. ERIC Digests. Retrieved from

Jepsen, D. A., & Dickson, G. L. (2003). Continuity in life-span career development: Career exploration as a precursor to career establishment. The Career Development Quarterly, 51(3), 217-233.

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 9(3). Retrieved from

Luzzo, D., James, T., & Luna, M. (1996). Effects of attributional retraining on the career beliefs and career exploration behavior of college students. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 43(4), 415-422. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.43.4.415

Palmer, P. J., & Zajonc, A. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Oyinlade, A., Gellhaus, M., & Darboe, K. (2003). Essential behavioral qualities for effective leadership in schools for students who are visually impaired: A national study. Journal Of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 97(7), 389-402.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from

Williams, F., Ricciardi, D., & Blackbourn, R. (2006). Theories of Leadership. Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. Vol. 2. 586-592. Sage Publications, Inc.

Zaccaro, S. J. (2001). Behavioral complexity theories of executive leadership: Empirical review and evaluation. The nature of executive leadership: A conceptual and empirical analysis of success (pp. 149-171). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10398-005





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