Recording and Reflecting on Prosper: A Snapshot Analysis of the Cohort Journals

Posted on: 11 April 2022 by Dr Tamara West in Blog posts

Prosper icon strip

As our first cohort of 53 postdocs from the University of Liverpool finish their year on our pilot cohort Dr Tamara West, one of our Research Staff Developers, reflects on the role of journaling and offers some insights from an analysis of journal entries.

Journaling is a key element of the Prosper Pilot Cohort’s activities and progress. Participants are encouraged to record their thoughts and experiences as a means of self-development. Journaling is fantastic tool to enable them to undertake this self-reflection, but it can also be very challenging.  Advice from the Prosper Team and the career coaches, alongside activities and further resources, are provided to support journaling practice (for a great overview of models and applications of reflective practice have a look at this resource from the University of Edinburgh).  As cohort members securely upload their journal entries for the Prosper team to see, these are also an essential component in understanding progress and shifts over the course of the pilot, ultimately facilitating improvement of the Prosper model. An initial analysis of the first and second quarter journal entries from the first cohort was undertaken a few months ago. For this, the focus was on shifts in narrative and perspective. Although representing just a snapshot of the richness and value of the journals, this exercise has already helped the Prosper team gain some valuable insights into the impact of the project on the cohort so far, as well as defined and actionable ways to make self-reflection tools more accessible for the new cohort.  It has also emphasised the fact that pathways taken through Prosper are not, and rarely will be, linear. Participants are all at different stages, have different expectations, and are in diverse situations – and these are themselves in flux.


The Sample

All journal entry records were accessed and for each cohort member the duration, frequency and mode of entries were analysed. These were then categorised into A) those who had not visibly journaled (13), B) those who had journaled for one month (8), C) those who had journaled for 2 months (5) and D) those who had journaled for 3 months or more (28).  For this initial analysis, only the 28 who had journaled for a full quarter or more were included. It would be difficult to compare narrative themes and shifts of a cohort member who only journaled for one month at the very start of the pilot with someone who has recorded entries for the full quarter and beyond.  It is important to note here that some cohort members did journal but hadn’t uploaded their journal entries. For this exercise only, a cut off period was applied and as such, it only represents a snapshot.


Key Themes

Key thematic areas emerged from a content analysis of the text. This was based in part on word and phrase frequencies identified via the use of NVivo software. These were used to inform the coding process. The journal dataset was then explored in a more in-depth manner, analysing the ways in which the cohort narrated these themes, and if this narration shifted across the first quarter. The key words and main thematic areas remained quite constant across the 3-4 month period in terms of frequencies, but this is to be expected given the focus on reflection and exploration in the first quarter. Across May, the word “career” and “job” were mentioned most frequently (128 and 97 mentions), and by July the journal sample mention the word career 375 times. As we moved into September, the word “interview” became recorded more often (36 times). Cross refencing these frequencies with narratives within the individual journals, we could track a thematic shift from the initial emphasis on reflecting on job and career pathways (May-June) towards skills development (July) and preparing for, or considering, interviews (Sept). We can also note a shift from reflections on personality towards the identification and application of skill sets. These are brought about in part by the use of personality and skills tests, coaching and skills development session, with several cohort members starting to apply the knowledge gained from these.


Key Findings and Next Steps

Emergent shifts in narrative: as detailed above, we found that there had been a shift in narrative during the first half of the pilot towards jobs, careers, and interviews. A further analysis of keywords and terms demonstrated a change in focus and in some cases action; this also echoes the structure of the Prosper pilot and the journey from reflection to action. However, it is important to note that this is not quite so simple- as the next finding illustrates!


The importance of recognising different stages and journeys: Cohort members used their journals to record successes as well as hesitancies. It is important to emphasize that there is no one single narrative. While several cohort members have recorded a linear progression towards career identification and job interviews, others are still finding their way through the process and exploring their own individual path. Here they return to previous steps, or they begin to reassess things all over again. The influence of external factors – everyday life! – and internal shifts necessarily varies from person to person.


The difficult process- and ultimate value-  of self-reflection The majority of those who journaled regularly found the process initially difficult but went on to value the activity. Some have already used their journal as a tool to monitor their own progress, track shifts in attitude, or make informed choices by revisiting previous entries and identifying key changes in their own perspectives and actions.  However, not every cohort member was able – or ready -to do this.


Recognising Difficulties and Barriers: We know that journaling is an effective and highly informative tool for both the cohort and the future development of the Prosper model, but engagement differs across participants. Even within the entries of those that have journaled regularly it is apparent that some difficulties centre in part around time commitment, and often also uncertainty about what to journal about. It is also apparent that the one to one and group coaching sessions directly influence the mode or content of journaling for several cohort members, shaping the participants way of recording their self-reflection and their activities. Based on this, Prosper have run several focus groups and have used these to revisit and strengthen the journaling resources and support systems for the second cohort – and beyond.