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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - David William Price, Education

Career Activity: Discussing Midlife Transitions as Strategic Activity Systems

Date & time
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W.
Room 5.315

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This study explored midlife career transition through facilitated dialogues. Three transition seekers were matched to completers based on shared experiences and characteristics. Seekers were interviewed to elicit systemic influences that shaped their career paths, instructed on active listening, then engaged in co-interviewing a relatable completer. All participants wrote Future Career Autobiographies before and after interviews to capture changes in thinking. Career stories and dialogues were drafted as case studies, coded for concepts, and explained as activity systems to highlight participant strategies. Participants who disclosed career dilemmas and related to each other had more interactions and problem-solving. Those who shared emotional losses had more relating, empathy and laughter. Without such experiences, seekers relied on probing, labelling and asking for negative stories. Completers expanded their role with empathy, explaining, problem-solving and offering further contact. Seekers and completers who shared emotional stories became more confident or reconsidered their future. Participants shifted from passive desires for harmony to wanting colleagues for career help. They expressed new options for learning, collaboration, and kinds of work, and insights about self-blame, force-fitting, trust, building on the past, and talking with others. Participants sought career change when they lacked balance between meeting their needs versus working for others. Male seekers sought sensations and identity. Female completers sought to care for others and themselves. Career dissatisfaction related to exclusion; defining work narrowly in terms of tasks; passively relying on others for opportunities; expecting to trust or be trusted without evidence; engaging opportunities with limited exploration; failing to monitor for changing circumstances; interpreting challenges as lack of belonging; and submitting to circumstances and the priorities of others. In contrast, career satisfaction related to belonging; performing according to personal values; and feeling encouragement despite anxiety. Satisfying transitions used training to combine enjoyed skills with a long-term interest or experience with a pressing problem. Helpful strategies included broadening scope to create opportunities and expand responsibility; actively surveying contacts to enter desired roles and overcome rejections; engaging with chance to create connections, explore options, practise skills and demonstrate ability; embracing personal development to overcome challenges; and pursuing change purposefully according to values.

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