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Professional identity formation at the undergraduate level: postgraduate students’ experiences at two South African universities

The South African higher education system still lags behind in terms of postgraduate output. Production is slow and not enough to meet the future demand of academics and knowledge creation. Studies have highlighted many reasons for the shortage. An area that has not been examined extensively are the undergraduate experiences of students and the trajectory to postgraduate studies. This study investigated postgraduate students’ experiences from undergraduate that shaped their professional identity and facilitated access into postgraduate studies and knowledge creation. Experiences investigated were those outside of the lecture room. The key findings were that university culture, university practices, mentorship, autonomy, technology, social media, entrepreneurship, visual symbols, family background and creativity had an influence on the development of professional identity. The data was used to create a model called the Tlou Model of Professional Identity Formation. It is proposed that the model be used as a framework for introducing and immersing undergraduate students into research and knowledge prevalent in both academia and industry. Implementation of the model would need to done from the first year of enrolment until their final year of study. If the model is effectively implemented it could empower undergraduate students and assist them to continue their educational journey into postgraduate studies and knowledge creation.


Keywords: Professional Identity, Undergraduate, Postgraduate, Experiences, Knowledge, Academia, Industry

Full Name
Dr Sindiswa Msimango