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Influences on career opinion

There are many different people - teachers, supervisors, PIs, friends and family - who may have shaped our attitudes towards careers. 

“I found these activities illuminating; I feel I am in a privileged position that attending University was considered to be the expected ‘default’, and that my family have some understanding of what is involved in an academic career. 

Perhaps I haven’t made enough purely rational decisions so far, and am too prone to take the comfortable ‘default’ route?”

Alexis, Postdoc in Archeology

Family influences

The group that influences us the most is our family. Studies (Keller 2004) have looked at the important role that relatives have in our understanding of work and career choice.

Often this shaping of values, sometimes helpful (but not always), happens below our conscious awareness, leaving us with a feeling or conviction that we cannot trace back to source. 

The Career Genogram can help you to identify how family socialisation may have influenced your opinions, assumptions and choices. 

Non-formal career guidance

Another powerful influence on our attitudes and opinions is the non-formal career guidance you may have received in your immediate environment from colleagues and peers.

The Career Mindset tool prompts you to explore and analyse how your family and your colleagues have influenced your opinions. 

How to Use:   

A career genogram a map, like a standard family tree, except that you add in detail about the occupations of your family members. Typically, you might cover 3 generations, but you can decide your own limits on this – depending on who you think has been influential. The job title is usually the place to start, but it may also be interesting to explore industries or educational levels. 

Draw Your Genogram 

Adding in any details that are relevant to you, as you do, think about patterns, themes or messages that standout to you. 


Lesha is a postdoctoral researcher working on tree responses to drought in a laboratory in the ecology department at a university. It is a role that has suited her quite well, with an increasing level of responsibility, enabling her to become involved in the management of the research groups’ activities. Lab-based science has allowed her to use some of her best skills. Near the end of her contract, she has been told she would likely get another postdoctoral position by her current PI. She isn’t sure if this is what she wants long-term. 

Iesha has one young child and is thinking of trying to have another child in the next year or so. She has thought about several options, wondering about ecological consultancy roles in industry, continuing in academia and trying to progress, or even taking some time off to spend more time with her young family. She is uncertain about what action to take next.  

Look at Lesha’s career genogram, then explore her reflections. 

A family tree, including the job title of each person, showing three generations of a family

Lesha noted that there are two typical paths: stay-at-home mum and high-level commerce. The implicit message seemed to be: either the choice was no career outside the home or take the commercial route. On reflection, Iesha thought a middle course might suit her better. She decided to research ecology roles in public sector organisations which she felt resonated more with her values and interests and may offer her the work-life balance and security that she wants for her young family. 

Though the occupations, outside the home, in Leshas’ family are white-collar professions, she feels that her family struggle to understand her career choices. 

Initially proud of her for starting a PhD and progressing in science, as the years went on, things got more awkward, her parents didn’t understand “what was taking so long?”, or why she’d chosen a career where she would be making “peanuts” (her Dad’s words when she told him the average salary of an assistant Professor). 

Iesha realised that some of her ambivalence about continuing in academia was about the way her family evaluated success and seemed to misunderstand her choices. She suspected that getting better at coping with this would help her be more objective when thinking through the pros and cons of continuing in academia. She decided she would talk to a sympathetic colleague, to figure out a more balanced perspective on what a future in academia might look like. 

How to use:

As with any of the techniques presented, skip over any questions that you feel are not relevant for you. Take some time to journal about these questions. 

Family influences

  • What did your family think was a good job verses a bad job? 
  • How does your family define success or failure? 
  • Who is/was successful in your family? What makes them successful? 
  • Who in your family would you like to be like? What do you admire about that person? 
  • Did your family value degrees, titles, qualifications?
  • What were the messages given to you about higher education? 
  • Were you the first to graduate from school or university? 
  • What was the message you received about education, degrees, and success? 
  • Did you feel that degrees and titles gave legitimacy to people’s work?

Educational environment/ work colleagues’ influences: 

  • What were the lessons you learned about the value of education?
  • What were the messages give not you about pursuing and academic career?
  • How is success evaluated in your current work environment? 
  • Do you feel you need another degree, certificate, or qualification in order to pivot? 
  • Are you discounting your lived experience and wealth of knowledge gained from simply living and learning? Why? 
  • Does success only come in one flavour for you? 
  • Do you worry that others will judge you for leaving? 
  • Do you think about the time and energy you’ve invested in education as wasted? 
  • Do you feel like you must feel miserable to leave your job? 
  • Does your sense of duty or loyalty make you feel uncomfortable about leaving before your contract ends? 
  • Does the title keep you from leaving because it defines you and your worth? 

Suggested tasks

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Keller 2004. The influences of the family of origin on career development: A review and analysis. (accessed 14 March 2023).

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