Betwixt spaces: student accounts of turning point experiences in first year transitions

Mark J. Palmer, Paula O'Kane, Martin Owens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


‘Not belonging’ is becoming a prevalent theme within accounts of the first-year student experience at university. In this study the notion of not belonging is extended by assuming a more active role for the idea of liminality in a student’s transition into the university environments of academic and student life. In doing so, the article suggests that the transition between one place (home) and another (university) can result in an ‘in-between-ness’ – a betwixt space. Through an interpretative methodology, the study explores how students begin to move from this betwixt space into feeling like fully-fledged members of university life. It is concluded that there is a wide range of turning points associated with the students’ betwixt transition, which shapes, alters or indeed accentuates the ways in which they make meaningful connections with university life. Moreover, transitional turning point experiences reveal a cast of characters and symbolic objects; capture contrasting motivations and evolving relationships; display multiple trajectories of interpersonal tensions and conflicts; highlight discontinuities as well as continuities; and together, simultaneously liberate and constrain the students’ transition into university life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-54
Number of pages18
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • first‐year student experience
  • university
  • not belonging
  • liminality
  • student’s transition
  • university environments
  • academic
  • student life
  • betwixt transition
  • transitional turning point experiences


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