The use of self-determination theory to investigate career aspiration, choice of major and academic achievement of tertiary science students

Gerry Rayner, Theo Papakonstantinou

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This study investigated the interrelationships among university entrance score, career aspiration, academic major, and academic achievement, of foundation year students, at an overall level and at completion of each year level of a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. Self-determination theory (SDT) was used as the underlying model for this study, which comprised 157 students who had completed their degree over 2015–2017. Results were analysed in terms of students’ intrinsic motivations (career aspiration and academic major), extrinsic motivations (university entrance score and academic success) and an amotivational factor (gender). We propose a model to explain the observed change in importance between BSc students’ extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, as a function of time and their increasing autonomy. If our results reflect broader patterns among Australian students undertaking post-secondary education, the use of grounded SDT-based approaches during foundation year may allow students to make more informed choices of academic major, and through this enhance their academic achievement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1635-1652
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • academic achievement
  • Academic major
  • career aspiration
  • gender
  • self-determination theory

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