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Interview with Mark Watson.

Mark Watson is a professor and head of the Psychology Department of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. his research focuses on career development and career assessment of primary, secondary and tertiary students from all South African population groups. Mark has published extensively in international journals, is the co-editor of two career books, has contributed book chapters to several international career texts, and is a co-developer of an international qualitative career assessment tool. he is presently on the editorial advisory board of several national and international career journals.


My career development has been a gradual evolvement within the field of secondary and tertiary education. In order to attend university, I applied for a government teacher's bursary which obligated me to teach at a secondary high school on completion of my studies. This did not happen straight away as my initial choice of majors in Latin and English shifted to Psychology. I was fortunate in securing a tutorial position after my bachelor's degree in the Department of Psychology of what was then the University of Port Elizabeth. This allowed me to complete both my honours and master's degrees before meeting my bursary obligations. I was then appointed a teacher-counsellor at a co-educational high school in Port Elizabeth where I spent five happy years. The school drew its student population from across the socioeconomic spectrum and I was consequently faced with a wide diversity of personal and career issues in my guidance classes and my counselling sessions. A major challenge I faced was to assist students towards tertiary education who lacked the financial means and even parental support to do so. I am still in contact with several of these students, some of whom have become prominent medical specialists and captains of industry.


During my last two years at the school I began lecturing part-time at Nelson Mandela university, delivering an afternoon course to teacher-counsellors in training. My first career change came about when the Head of Psychology offered me a permanent lecturing position. I was well-entrenched in my school position and after much contemplation turned the offer down. A year later the offer was repeated but this time with the proviso that it would not be offered again. I took the offer with some reluctance after much soul searching. One of the factors involved in this decision was a piece paper that several students had signed and slipped under my office door. It was a quote which said, 'For stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould'. Those who have heard me speak in Australia will know how much a quote can influence my thinking!

I have been at Nelson Mandela ever since, although my career has continued to evolve. For much of the first decade here my primary function was lecturing. This I did at various undergraduate and postgraduate levels. A turning point for me was the advice from my Head of Department that promotion was only possible if I developed some sort of publication record. This move towards research was undertaken with the same reluctance that I displayed when leaving secondary for tertiary education. I wrote initially out of necessity and my first published article in 1986 (in the Journal of Vocational Behavior) was based on my doctoral research on the career development of a disadvantaged South African population group. It was this research, coupled with my practical experience as a teacher-counsellor, which led me further into the field of career psychology. I have never left it, although there has been personal evolvement within my research and practice over subsequent decades.

Much of that evolvement has come about as a consequence of international collaborative research over the last decade. And much of that collaboration has been with some of your most prominent Australian career researchers--Mary McMahon, Wendy Patton and Peter Creed. This collaborative research has also evolved over time. When I first started visiting Australia nearly a decade ago I worked with Wendy and Peter primarily in quantitative career research. Over time I have worked more closely with Mary and Wendy in the development of the My Systems of Career Influences (MSCI) workbook that operationalises their Systems Theory Framework of career development.

This research and instrument development reflects the growing need that I have felt to become more qualitative in my perspectives on career development. For some time, I had felt increasingly frustrated that the theoretical paradigms within which I taught and researched did not sufficiently capture the reality of the contexts within which most South Africans shaped their career development. In my view, career is all about context and never more so than in a country where context has been manipulated and restricted by political ideologies.

More recently, I have continued to work with Mary and Wendy on the adaptation of the MSCI for use with adults. This has involved fieldwork in Australia, South Africa and England. I have also been busy with Mary researching children's career development. We have been exploring the career development of both Australian and South African primary school children for several years now and at present are researching the career development of Xhosa-speaking rural children and rural Australian children. This year also sees the tenth year of a longitudinal study in which I have been tracking the same 45 South African children from their pre-school years. They are all now in high school and interviewing them annually has revealed interesting trends in their occupational aspirations. We have also videoed these children's reflections on their earlier occupational aspirations and how they understand changes in these aspirations over their career development to date.

Along with international collaboration has come an increase in travel. I am fortunate to have been able to travel overseas annually for the last decade or so. Next year sees me continuing this trend with a visit to New Zealand to conduct career workshops, the presentation of a research paper at your AACC conference in Hobart, and a trip to Berlin with Mary to take part in a symposium on assessment. There are other exciting possibilities for the future. One is the potential to collaborate with two career experts in England (Jenny Bimrose from the University of Warwick and Deidre Hughes from the University of Derby). In addition, both Mary and I have been invited to join the Life Design International Research Team which is proposing to develop an international measure of career adaptability.

I see that one of Jim Athanasou's questions asks about my use of indigenous quotes in keynote addresses. It is true that I have imbued my presentations with quotations. In an interview published in the Australian Career Practitioner earlier this year I refer to several quotations that can be found displayed in both my work and home office. I have found quotations and cartoon strips to be powerful mediums for conveying universal truths. There is much wisdom in these forms of communication and what is attractive about them is that they can encapsulate this wisdom in a concise and powerful way. In fact, it is a quote that will help me answer two other questions that Jim has posed: the important issues facing career psychology in South Africa today and the future evolvement of career development in general.

One of the major issues I have struggled with in the field of career psychology is the proliferation of new material and concepts and the speed with which our research responds to career issues. It seems to me that there is a tension on the one hand between the need to address and redress prevalent career issues as quickly as possible, while on the other hand, to provide grounded foundations on which meaningful theory and practice can be based. This is particularly evident in a developing nation such as South Africa where there is a pressing need to reach out and deliver service to a vast majority in the shortest possible time. The consequence of this is that much of what we do seems to skim a cross-sectional surface of the societies that we live and work in. The urgency of our contexts does not allow us the luxury of grounding more carefully what we conceptually develop.

The Zulu-speaking people of South Africa have a phrase that we would be wise to consider here. They would tell us to hamba kahle which means hasten slowly. As the great South African writer, Sir Laurens van der Post, put it 'you cannot make plants want to grow faster'. To me that encapsulates the tension I feel in my own research, wanting to make a difference but realising that a real difference will take longer than the realities of the surrounding contextual demands. It is the sort of tension I feel when trying to work both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Therein lies the challenge to the future of career psychology: how to work qualitatively in what is largely a quantitative world. There are opportunities that can close this divide. For instance, becoming involved in the quantitative development of a career adaptability measure may be one. For here is a qualitative construct, in my opinion, that is context sensitive and that emphasises flexibility, fluidity and ongoing career development adaptation to the contextual realities that we as individuals must constantly face. This brings me to another of Jim's questions about the role of mentors. I have several that I think guide us all consistently and challengingly in our discipline. In my earlier years I was known as a Super man by my postgraduate students and the work of Donald Super has greatly influenced me. In more recent years I have been much influenced by major scholars in career psychology such as Mark Savickas and David Blustein. Then too my work with Australian career researchers has been most enriching and I have particularly valued Mary McMahon's systemic thinking and her ability to marry practice with research, something that is not too evident in much of what one reads in the field.

Finally, Jim exhorts me to speak of what I do when I am not involved in my career work. The simple answer is not as much as I would like to do. If you happen to come across me away from my desk and out of my office you could find me reading (detective and autobiography), gardening, or even scrimmaging in some second-hand or antique shop. I am a keen collector of Art Deco ceramics and particularly the work of Susie Cooper. True to my academic nature, I read up on and research her work as well. You may also find me on the periphery of art exhibitions trying to look intelligent (I have been married to a ceramic artist for 28 years). These types of activities augur well for a busy retirement one day. I hope that on retirement I will not have to state as Charles Lamb, the 18th century essayist and poet, did that 'I am retired ... perambulating at no fixed pace nor with any settled purpose. I walk about; not to and from'. I hope to see you soon on one of my 'to-ings and from-ings'.
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Article Details
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Publication:Australian Journal of Career Development
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Sep 22, 2008
Previous Article:At my desk.
Next Article:Migrants' adjustment to career: an analysis in relation to Nicholson's theory.

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