Why get a degree?

In the next few months I will be interviewing Royal Holloway and Bedford College alumni who attended university during the 1960s. From these conversations I hope to take away a better understanding of how these women and men viewed themselves and their roles in society. In particular, how going to university and earning a degree tied into their image of themselves.

I’d like to ask our interviewees what they considered the purpose of a university degree to be when they opted to join Royal Holloway and Bedford College. Whether it was a ticket into the career they aspired to, a status symbol, a networking tool, or just a fun way to spend a few years. I would be curious to know whether they chose to apply or whether was it a path their parents picked for them, and the reasons behind this. Given that our participants grew up in a time in which women’s roles tended to be limited in comparison to what is possible today, I’d want to focus on the women’s perspective (while also comparing the women’s ambitions and expectations with those of the men). What kinds of careers were they hoping to pursue after university, and how did expectations of motherhood and becoming a wife affect these ambitions? It would also be revealing to find out about their backgrounds, such as the roles or careers their mothers and other female role models had, as well as how their time at university was funded. Whether there is a correlation between subject area and ambition would also be an interesting prospect to investigate. Did they chose subjects because they caught their interest, or because they felt that these subjects would lead to job stability and independence?

I think memory is also going to be an important factor in this, considering the extent to which a person’s narrative changes in hindsight. Did the path they eventually found themselves on after university change the way they recollect their initial reasons for going to university? Perhaps they entered university dreaming of a certain career but have since forgotten about the significance of that ambition because in reality they ended up marrying and putting their career on hold for children.

It will be interesting to see how this line of investigation corresponds with current understandings of gender roles within society during the 1960s.