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 Sabrina Spangsdorf

Sabrina Spangsdorf

PhD student

 Washington Singer 


Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK


I am a part-time PhD student in Psychology at Exeter University with Prof. Michelle K. Ryan and Adam Rutland as supervisors. My research aims to map the psychology of ambition among young students and explore possible gender differences in the perception of success and ambition and to locate possible deterrents that may affect young students’ ambitions.

I combine my PhD with my full-time work as a PhD Coordinator for the Graduate School at the Danish university DTU (Technical University of Denmark).

Graduating in 2003 with a Master’s Degree in Business English and International Relations from the Danish University of Aalborg, I have worked in public and private companies handling organizational change projects, strategic business development and analyses within the educational field, social groups and gender studies. In 2016 I graduated from Liverpool University with a MSc in applied psychology receiving a Dissertation of the Year Award for my dissertation on women, identity and top management, also known as the Glass Slipper Effect. My dissertation and research findings struck a nerve and caught the attention of the national media in Denmark and Britain as well as many women. This led me to pursue a PhD in psychology.


PhD student in Social & Organizational Psychology (part-time) / University of Exeter

Prospective PhD Thesis: To be or not to be ambitious? Exploring the gendered nature of ambition

Supervisor: Prof. M. Ryan, Dr. Adam Rutland

MSc in Applied Psychology / Liverpool University, UK

MSc Thesis: The Glass Slipper Effect: The influence of occupational identity by association on the motivation to pursue a top managing position among women in Denmark.

Supervisor: Prof. Alex Forsythe

MA in Business English and international relations / University of Aalborg, Denmark

Bachelor of Arts: English/German and Intercultural Communication / University of Aalborg, Denmark


2023 -            PhD Coordinator / DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

2016 - 2023   Strategic advisor and educational analyst / Hillerød Municipality, Denmark

2011-2016     Strategic development consultant / Slagelse Municipality, Denmark

2007-2010     Career advisor / FTF-A, Denmark

2006-2007     English teacher and project manager / Business Academy Dania, Denmark

2005-2006     Project coordinator – human resource / Brønderslev Municipality, Denmark

2004-2005     Project coordinator / DGI Nord, Denmark

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Research interests

In my research I explore how adolescents define and talk about ambition and ambitious behavior. I propose that the reason we often see gender differences in ambition, is not due to actual differences in ambition itself, but rather in the factors predicting ambition, and that we approach ambition from a very one-dimensional aspect that favors more stereotypical masculine notions of success. This leaves out both men and women, who desire other goals than the traditional goals of power, money and prestige.

In my research I approach ambition from a broader angle in order to locate where possible gender differences may occur and what factors may influence or lead to these differences. This approach utilizes a mixture of exploratory research combined with correlational and experimental studies.

Key research areas:

  • Goal orientation theory
  • Social identity theory
  • Social role theory
  • Gender studies
  • Adolescence
  • Stereotypes

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Journal articles

Opara V, Spangsdorf S, Ryan MK (2023). Reflecting on the use of Google Docs for online interviews: Innovation in qualitative data collection. Qualitative Research, 23(3), 561-578. Abstract.
Spangsdorf S, Ryan MK, Kirby TA (2023). Understanding the Impact of Context on Ambition: Gender Role Conformity Negatively Influences Adolescent Boys’ Ambition Scores in an Educational Context. Youth & Society Abstract.

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