Reflection as purposeful, social activity
: a cultural-historical exploration of recent veterinary graduates' experiences during the Professional Development Phase

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


In recent decades, reflection and reflective practice have emerged as much-debated concepts in professional contexts. Using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), this thesis explores the experiences of recent veterinary graduates as they engage in reflective activity during the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) Professional Development Phase (PDP). The term “reflective activity” is employed to conceptualise reflection as an activity situated in a social, cultural and historical context. Analysis of supporting documents and transcripts of interviews with fifteen participants enabled detailed description of the system of reflective activity during the PDP, whilst privileging the experiences of individuals within the system through the lens of the Vygotskian concept of perezhivanie. Dialectic analysis was undertaken to identify conflicts, experienced by participants, arising from system-level contradictions. Contradictions were apparent within two overarching themes. Firstly, the need for support for reflective activity was highlighted, with externally-oriented reflective actions such as talking and writing helping convert worry into purposeful reflection, the perceived attributes of other actors in the system impacting on the value of talk as a mediator of reflective activity, and workplace culture impacting on access to resources. Secondly, the formalisation of informal processes led to confusion regarding the purpose of reflective activity, conflict between participants’ preferred reflective actions and the format of the online portfolio, and a risk of resentment and reduced engagement arising from the rules associated with the PDP. If the potential outcomes of the system are to be fully realised, new graduates need opportunities to engage in social reflective activity with trusted colleagues with whom there is a shared understanding of the purpose of reflective activity. The findings of this study suggest that reconsideration of the formal expectations of new veterinary graduates and their employers would be warranted and timely.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorSue Timmis (Supervisor)

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