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Proving TV soaps change destinies

It is not every day that you hear someone say that The TES has changed her + life. But Ruth Hawthorn swears it's true.Two years ago, she became the first + woman to win a TES Research Fellowship, giving her the chance to study for a + year at Lucy Cavendish, the Cambridge college for mature women students. She + now has a full-time job there. Next year, The TES will be funding another + fellowship and is inviting applications from suitably qualified women graduates+ wishing to research an education policy topic . Ruth's project was to + investigate how two groups of people - school leavers in their first jobs and + adults who change jobs mid-career - make these crucial choices. Her particular + interest was in exploring the role that television and radio play in the + process. Her conclusions, after a year spent interviewing broadcasters, careers+ advisers and others, make interesting reading. Most career choices, she found,+ are influenced (and often limited) by family expectations, or by the advice or+ example of an influential individual (often an aunt or a cousin). Teachers, + she discovered, were frequently a crucial influence. She believes that an + awareness of their potential careers guidance role should be built into + student teachers' training programmes. Television and radio were not, among the+ groups she interviewed, a prime influence on career choices. Usually, ideas + came from someone within the family or from a teacher. However, the media - in + particular TV soaps like The Bill and Casualty - shaped decisions once an idea + had germinated. The research points to the importance of using television role + models, members of our "virtual family", to try to influence career choices. + The relationship between TV and the family also suggests a more subtle form of + influence. One interviewee, a young laboratory technician, was influenced by + her father's liking for nature programmes. "He had found it relaxing, and she + associated the subject-area with moments of closeness with him." Before she was+ awarded the fellowship, Ruth had worked in educational publishing and taught + for two years in an Essex secondary school, prior to taking an eight-year break+ to bring up her two children. She returned to work in careers guidance in + Cambridgeshire, and until taking up The TES fellowship worked for the National + Institute for Careers Education and Counselling. The fellowship allowed her to + attend one of the country's most prestigious adult education colleges which has+ enabled many women whose careers have been interrupted to find new + opportunities. "I got an enormous amount out of it intellectually. You might + think that these days a college for women is an anachronism, but it's not at + all. It's an extremely interesting institution, and particularly fascinating + because it takes women from diverse communities and backgrounds from all over + the world." She was so happy that she didn't want to leave the college and her + ambition was fulfilled when, at the end of her year, she was offered a job as + part-time admissions officer. The rest of her time is spent as Harris Fellow in+ Education, doing research. "I'm incredibly grateful to The TES. It has really + changed my life," she says.

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