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Personal profile


Understanding the motivations behind our education and career choices

Through her research, Helen looks closely at youth pathways, as well as educational and occupational choices. andldquo;I'm very interested in why people choose to do the things that they do. I've always been a bit of a watcher, and education and occupation are such big defining sets of choices.andrdquo;

Helen is an Australian Research Council Research Fellow 2011-2015. In this work she follows young adults from high school, through university, and into the early years of their professions to understand what decides them to choose particular careers. Collaborations with researchers around the world afford the opportunity to examine how salient cultural features shape motivations and choices, such as in the newly formed worldwide network she coordinates, Gender and STEM: Educational and Occupational Pathways and Participation Network. Her current research work has implications for redressing the gender imbalance in mathematics related careers, and for supporting the career and professional development of beginning teachers.

Helen has received national and international research awards, attracted substantial external funding, and published in and guest edited leading journals. She is currently Associate Editor for Educational Research Review, and served on Editorial Boards including: Journal of Research on Adolescence; Journal of Experimental Education; Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; and the Australian Journal of Education. She is co-founder and convenor of the national Motivation and Learning Special Interest Group of the Australian Association for Research in Education, and Program Chair for the international Motivation and Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.


'We've found that for girls, their interests play a really large role in their career choices. For boys, however, it's much more about their perceived skills and values. This fits a lot with early socialization - how parents want girls to be happy, and boys to be successful.'

Helen is following the trajectories of people in law, science, technology, maths, and engineering careers. She is particularly interested in teachers, since their career attitudes play such a big part in subsequent generations' attitudes.

In the worldwide FIT-Choice study of teachers she is conducting with Associate Professor Paul Richardson, Helen identified a distinct typology among beginning teachers, including groups such as 'highly engaged persisters', 'lower engaged desisters', and 'highly engaged switchers'.

Understanding the motivations and expectations of preservice teachers is especially important in an industry that sees a 50 per cent turnover of teachers in their first five years.

Helen says the assumption has been that preservice teachers get out to the schools and suffer reality shock. However, the FIT-Choice project has determined that this high turnover is not necessarily a poor reflection of teacher education or induction. Rather, the turnover also reflects teachers' own preformed agenda and vision for themselves.

'Sixty per cent of preservice teachers are already very clear about not wanting to stay because they have another plan in mind later. They'll give reasons such as, 'I don't want to do any single job for my whole life,' or 'I need new challenges'. We should plan for replacement. It's not so different from other professions - why would we think that teaching would be immune to a changing work context?'

So what does she recommend to people choosing their degree, or planning a new career?

'I would imagine pursuing your interests would optimise your wellbeing and satisfaction, but pursuing your skills might optimise your performance and effectiveness. Probably the healthiest is some balance between the two.'

Associate Professor Helen Watt is an experienced research supervisor, having supervised PhD, Masters and Honours students at Monash, where she has been repeatedly nominated for Monash Postgraduate Association 'Supervisor of the Year' (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), and previously at the University of Western Sydney and University of Sydney. Several of Helen's students have gone on to publish their work in books and journals and to win major national and international research awards and prizes as a result of the quality of their thesis research.


For further information:

  • STEPS Study of Transitions and Education Pathways, http://www.stepsstudy.org/
  • FIT-Choice Project: Factors Influencing Teaching Choice, http://www.fitchoice.org/
  • Research Supervision, http://users.monash.edu.au/~hwatt/supervision.html

Research interests

  • Educational and Developmental Psychology: motivation, self-concept, academic achievement, maths education, gender studies, career and vocational choices, parent and school socialisation, teacher education, teacher self-efficacy.
  • Research Methodology: measurement, scale construction, mixed methods, quantitative methods, longitudinal designs and analyses.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Research area keywords

  • Educational and Developmental Psychology
  • Motivation
  • Self-concept
  • Academic achievement
  • Maths education
  • Gender studies
  • Career and vocational choices
  • Parent and school socialisation
  • teacher education
  • Teacher self-efficacy
  • Measurement
  • Scale construction
  • Mixed methods
  • Quantitative methods
  • Longitudinal designs and analyses

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or