Describing pre-professional identity in higher education: A case study of exercise science students


  • Kelly Clanchy Griffith University, Australia
  • Clare Minahan Griffith University, Australia
  • Elizabeth Cardell Griffith University, Australia
  • Andrea Bialocerkowski Griffith University, Australia


Pre-professional identity, scientist, practitioner, researcher, exercise science


Pre-professional identity (PPI) is an understanding of the skills, qualities, conduct, culture and ideology of a students’ intended profession. Understanding PPI is valuable for students and higher-education providers to provide insight into motivation for- and to promote engagement in- learning. Describing PPI is challenging, particularly for evolving health professions. This paper describes a process undertaken to understand PPI, using exercise science (ES), a new and evolving health profession, as a case study. Mixed methods were used to describe three aspects of PPI: 1) student cohort characteristics; 2) personal factors influencing PPI; and 3) perceived career direction. Final year ES students participated in an online survey and a focus group (n=305; 59% male; 75% age range of 20-24 years). Factors contributing to the development of PPI included the desire to help others; interest and experience in sports/exercise. Students had the strongest understanding of the PI domains of affiliation, money and structure and limited understanding of the role of scientist and researcher. Two outcomes were derived from the study findings to advance the theoretical understanding of PPI: 1) a 3-item framework that describes factors specific to students’ PPI; and 2) a worked case study demonstrating how this framework was applied to gain a nuanced understanding of PPI in ES. Our framework can be applied to increase student and higher education providers understanding of PPI and the motivations underpinning student decision-making in higher education.


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How to Cite

Describing pre-professional identity in higher education: A case study of exercise science students. (2021). Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 18(6), 174-192.