10.1 A Phenomenological Investigation of Voluntary Exits from the Atmospheric Science Occupation

Wednesday, 25 January 2017: 4:00 PM
308 (Washington State Convention Center )
Amanda K. Kis, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Employment data on degree-holding atmospheric scientists (including meteorologists) is sparse; what little there is suggests a sizable number work outside of the occupation. Occupational factors that may contribute to exits have not been closely examined, although implications of supply-and-demand studies suggest that lacking entry-level jobs and low salaries may play a role. The purpose of this study is to investigate the experiences of atmospheric scientists who worked in the occupation before voluntarily exiting it. This study answers calls for increased honesty about employment by providing detailed descriptions of the experiences of working atmospheric scientists to aspiring atmospheric scientists and their educators. A scientific phenomenological approach, which is new to the atmospheric science literature, is well suited to understanding exit experiences. Consistent with this type of approach, the main research question is: What is it like to voluntarily exit the atmospheric science occupation? The research is additionally guided by the questions: How do occupational factors contribute to exits? How do atmospheric scientists who have already exited the occupation evaluate the avoidability of their exits?  Data were collected via approximately 1.5-hour semi-structured interviews with sixteen degree-holding atmospheric scientists who worked in various facets of the occupation before voluntarily exiting. Interview transcriptions were analyzed by parsing out significant statements with relevant and unique descriptions (“horizonalization”) to identify the essential structure of the experience of exiting the atmospheric science occupation. Exits were initially unplanned and evolved in response to job insecurity, unsustainable compensation, unwanted career progression, disillusionment with occupational culture, and unsatisfactory fit with familial needs. Transferrable skills, outside contacts, and social support the participants acquired while working in the occupation eased their transitions to other occupations. Although participants ultimately viewed their exits as “right” and “necessary,” they in some cases also saw them as “wasteful” and resulting from failure. Even when they wished to stay in the occupation, they could not find financial or emotional incentives to try to do so; they saw their exits as final, and several did not feel that a return would be possible. Each participant placed their exit within larger issues related to supply-and-demand and, in doing so, gave a nuanced view of how unbalanced supply-and-demand affects even those who are able to find work in the occupation. These results give focus to topics for future occupational studies.
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