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Family footsteps

How far is your apple from the tree – are you following in your family’s footsteps?

Whether you are chasing a similar career to your parents or breaking with tradition, your upbringing may influence your choice of job more than you realise.

How many medical students or trainee teachers have you met who have a family connection to the same profession? And just how easy is it to go into a career your mum or dad have already had success in – or one that they've warned you against? Sidestepping destiny may be tough, but making the choice your own is important – as the following students and graduates have found.

To be a barrister, or not to be?

When James graduated with a law degree from Portsmouth University in 2019 he had one eye on becoming a barrister and the other on a career that his mum and dad weren't too keen on. Actors, turned teacher and theatrical agent respectively, they had discouraged him from professional acting. 'I'm still interested in being an actor,' says James, who took lead roles in school and amateur productions at the same time as studying and is working while he considers his next step. 'I know my parents wouldn't have stopped me doing it, but ever since I can remember they said, “Don't go into acting, it's a terrible job”,' he says.

James enjoys the prospect of standing up in court to say his piece and likens it to performing. 'You have an audience – the jury – it's exciting work,' he says. While he is saving towards the Bar professional training course (BPTC), which costs a hefty £13,000-plus, he still has half a mind on providing himself with a financial cushion if he goes into the 'terrible' but magnetising world of acting.

A newshound on his parents' trail

Despite everything Will had heard from his family about the challenges of a career in journalism he wrote sports blogs, worked on his student newspaper and took up media placements throughout his degree. After completing an NCTJ training course at News Associates in Manchester, Will's next step was a trial at Sky Sports News. 'Growing up in a family where both my parents were journalists, it was easy to recognise just how much fun it would be for anyone who was curious, inquisitive or interested in people,' says Will, who graduated in history at Durham University in 2018. 'Without doubt Mum and Dad sold a job to me that is every day proving to be the best career decision I could possibly have made,' he says.

Lessons parents have taught their kids

When Josie started thinking of a career in teaching her parents' friends pointed out the worst aspects of the profession, while Josie's mum, a teacher for 30 years, told her to go ahead if it would make her happy. After consideration Josie opted to study early years education with qualified teacher status (QTS) at Edge Hill University. 'I was inspired to become a teacher because I saw how much my mum enjoyed going to work,' says Josie, adding that her mum is proud of her decision.

Josie's story is not uncommon. 'While I was at my uni interviews it was crazy the amount of people who had chosen teaching because their parents were teachers!' Josie says. Her mum emphasised positive aspects of the profession such as the opportunity to help young pupils establish good habits and behaviour for success in the future, and the variety teaching brings. 'She always has a different story to tell and she meets a range of different characters,' says Josie, who knew she wouldn't enjoy an office-based job.

University of York graduate Emily took an alternative path. 'I come from a family of teachers: my mum, two of her siblings and my granny before she retired, then on my dad's side there's my aunt and two cousins,' she says. 'It was the one career my mum kept telling me not to go into,' says Emily, who loves her job in publishing, a profession she has no family connection to.

Feeling the family pull – the facts and stats

According to Facebook Research, parents' jobs undeniably influence their offspring's career choices. In 2016 researchers looked at 5.6 million anonymised parent-child occupations in the English-speaking world and found a definite lean towards a parental profession. For example, daughters were 3.9 times more likely than usual to go into a scientific job role if their fathers were scientists, while sons were 6.6 times more likely to choose legal careers if their mothers worked in law. They also found that professionals' children were likely to seek jobs in other professions – so if your mum works in management, you might choose a career in finance, for example. Negative associations because of a family background were low, researchers discovered, but ultimately, most young people find their own path.

How that research plays out in the real world is something University of East Anglia careers adviser Isla Hosking can relate to. 'We don't see lots of people wanting to follow in their parents' exact footsteps, but we've noticed that many young people's career choices are strongly influenced by their family's professions and socioeconomic situation – whether these are just absorbed as the norm they should aspire to, or clearly expressed as expectations,' she says.

Careers advisers don't push students in any particular direction, but help them make their own decisions. If your heart and head are saying different things, explore your options. 'We might ask a client what opinions the people around them hold, what they fear people will say, what the worst case scenario might be and whether it's likely to be as bad as they imagine,' explains Isla, who remembers helping an engineering student who was worried what his family might say if he went against expectations.

How Joe jazzed up his career plans

Joe studied graphic design at Nottingham Trent but after graduation and a period of reflection he opted for a jazz music masters at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. 'I was good at visual arts and thought graphic design the most realistic career path,' he says. 'I could have been influenced by the fact that Dad was a graphic designer, but I don't think it was a conscious choice. When I realised graphics wasn't for me I decided to pursue the thing I was really passionate about, mainly because I knew I would regret it if I didn't.'

Medicine or STEM – or maybe a bit of both

University of Sheffield medical student Charlie considered following her chemistry boffin mum into teaching but instead opted for her anaesthetist father's career in medicine. 'As soon as I said I wanted to do this Dad gave me some direction, but I didn't feel any pressure,' Charlie says. Her recently retired dad has been suggesting various specialisms within medicine but Charlie currently sees her future in paediatrics, the treatment of children. 'I definitely don't want to be an anaesthetist!' she says.

It can be easier to take an alternative path if a sibling also sidesteps family tradition. Benji studied mechanical engineering with biomechanics at university, instead of medicine like his mum, a palliative care consultant; his dad, a GP; and his sister, a junior doctor. 'My brother studied physics, so I'm not the only non-medic in the family,' Benji laughs. 'I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was at school; I opted for zoology initially but in the end I did what I was good at.' After graduating from university in 2019 Benji found a job in another engineering sector altogether, working for a clean technology and energy start-up based in Sheffield that is also developing projects in Africa.

Designing an inspiring creative career

Sometimes the familial pull is so strong you can't help but embrace it. Amelia's grandfather, uncle, aunt and dad worked together in a family design and print firm before her dad set up his own creative design company. After graduating in fashion design at Leeds University Amelia went on to gain a masters in textiles at the Royal College of Art in London. 'Dad has always pushed my creativity and has influenced me massively,' she says.

Amelia was heading into sportswear design when she received a job offer as a colour, materials and finish (CMF) designer working on Dyson's first car. Her dad encouraged her to go for it and supported her move to Bristol. 'It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,' Amelia says. She learned a great deal in the role at Dyson – it's a company students consistently list as a top UK300 employer. Now, inspired by her dad's passion and success, Amelia has moved on to set up a creative company of her own, opening her studio AK Ayerst in 2020.

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