There are many theories of motivation: incentive theory, goal-setting theory, cognitive-dissonance theory, need hierarchy theory, to name a few. For an overview of some key theories, see www.strategies-for-managing-change.com/motivation-theories.html or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation
In this module we are particularly interested in an area of need theory called Self Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan 1985, 2000) as it speaks to the graduate student experience.
- Self Determination Theory focuses on the importance of intrinsic motivation in driving human behavior. It posits a natural tendency toward growth and development. Unlike other theories, however, it does not include any sort of ‘autopilot’ for achievement, but instead states individuals require active encouragement from the environment.
- Self Determination Theory views motivation on a multi-dimensional continuum of increasing self-determination and self-motivation. Dimensions include:
- the target behavior: not self-determined / self-determined
- motivation source: amotivated / extrinsic / intrinsic
- regulation style: not regulated / externally regulated / internally regulated
- locus of control: impersonal / external / internal
- As a behavior or thought becomes more integrated and internalized into an individual’s value system, there is a shift in all dimensions towards more internal regulation and control. This allows the behaviour to be maintained with minimal support from the external world, ie. it is sustained through intrinsic motivation.
E.G. You are submitting a paper for publication. You do it because:
Extrinsic motivators– It’s a degree requirement. It will impress your supervisor.
Intrinsic motivators- Preparing the paper helps you improve research and writing skills necessary for your career. You feel a sense of accomplishment, and want to show colleagues what you value about this research.
- for maximum self-motivation and self-determination to occur, certain innate psychological needs must be met.
- The urge to direct our own lives (i.e. Autonomy)
- The desire to get better and succeed at something we care about (i.e. Mastery or Competence)
- The wish to connect with others or act in service of something larger than ourselves (i.e. Relatedness)
What does this understanding of motivation mean for graduate students, supervisors, and departmental administrators?
- Being a successful graduate student requires you to develop autonomy, independence and high levels of self-regulation. You are expected to manage your degree with little direct intervention from faculty. Supervisors often remark that students are surprised when they are given so much autonomy. However, this independence requires you to become more self-determined and self- motivated.
- Conversely, active encouragement from the environment is also required for positive outcomes at grad school. This means the student, supervisor, department and school have to balance student/supervisor relationships: a collaboration of students working alone to try things out and make mistakes, and a supervisor readily available who can be called on when required.
Because graduate work requires high levels of creativity, problem-solving, and concentration, students are most likely to be motivated to sustain their work when they can:
- Work autonomously
- Develop a collaborative relationship with their supervisor
- Feel a sense of worth in and belonging to their project, department, and school
Improve skills and knowledge in a safe (i.e. room for mistakes) learning environment