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Vol. 36 (2016)

Interweaving Life and Career: The Recursive Impact of Life and Career Decisions Among Female Higher Education Faculty

  • Teri Peterson
  • Amy Slack
  • Cynthia Lee Pemberton
June 14, 2017


Through this study the researchers sought to describe and understand the unidirectional and recursive impact of major life and career decisions on female higher education faculty, and subsequently scaffold emergent themes using life course theory. Semi- structured interviews were conducted with 12 female faculty members at an institution in the Intermountain west. Qualitative inquiry was used to analyze the interviews, providing rich descriptions and understanding from the perspective of the individuals' lived experience. Five themes emerged from the interview data. These themes were then scaffolded within life course theory to frame an understanding of the interplay of major life and career decisions on the career trajectories of female higher education faculty. The themes were geographical choice, family, support structures, job type, and time/balance. These themes illustrated the primary aspects of life course theory, particularly the Timing of lives, Linked or interdependent lives, Human agency in making choices, Developmental risk and protection, and Diversity in life course trajectories. The usefulness of applying this theory when considering female faculty perceptions about their lived experiences was supported by the study findings; facilitating and deepening our understanding of the interaction of life events and career decisions among female faculty in the academy.

Keywords: work life balance, career trajectory, female faculty, life course theory