For many years prior to starting my research, I had become increasingly concerned about the absence of a lexicon (Reay, 2005) with which to articulate my graduate story, the nature of the enduring influence of higher education in my life, and what this contributed to analyses of the value of higher education. I was hearing little that resonated with my own experience, either in policy rhetoric, or in conversations with friends and family who were not graduates and who had not experienced any form of higher education. Once I began my own research, I also found that academic research on graduates focuses mainly on employment issues, earnings potential or social mobility. Research on those who had been graduates for a decade or more was rare. I thought that talking to longstanding graduates about all aspects of a life, and not just a working life, for example, would be a good way of finessing and fragmenting the meaning of value in the context of higher education and that a longer time span would focus attention not only on the enduring but also the changing nature of the experience, how it plays itself out over a lifetime, and how this can be articulated in terms of value. Consequently I enlisted the help of eight other women ‘like me’ – graduates from white working class backgrounds who had gone from school to English universities in the 1970s – in order to hear their stories. Therefore my research was intensely personal in that I wanted to make sense of the unruly mess that constituted my feelings about whether going to university had been a positive move for me. My hope was to hear counter-narratives to those dominant stories that made little sense of my experience. But it was also sociological, in the broadest sense of the word, in that it offered a way to challenge a decontextualized concept of ‘the’ value of higher education, one which seems able to preserve the appearance of unvarying uniformity and general acceptability while simultaneously being open to a range of definitions. I now critically review the ethical basis and conduct of this research.