Maintaining Motivation

According to research, motivation is a significant predictor of whether or not a student will complete their PGR studies [1]; [2]; [3]. 

The work of Ryan and Deci 2000 [4] has shown that how we are motivated has significant implications for our wellbeing and the outcome of our work.  According to Self-Determination Theory Ryan & Deci, (1985 [5]), 2000 [4]) the two main types of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic. While we all tend to use both types of motivation, the balance we strike can be important for our success and health.

When an individual is extrinsically motivated their behaviour is usually externally driven. These external drivers may be money, grades, praise, titles or even fame.  

This type of motivation can have a role to play in helping you to achieve your PGR studies. However, extrinsic motivation has also been shown to be less effective in ensuring someone completes a challenging task and may even actively undermine the likelihood of completing it [4]. 

In contrast, intrinsic motivation is internally driven by an individual interest, passion for or enjoyment in doing something [4]. An intrinsically driven individual will be working towards their own personal goals and achievements and will gain internal meaning and purpose from the task. This approach has been found to be linked to high-quality learning and creativity. This may be due to the focus being primarily on learning and growth, and not on the rewards that may come from the task [6].

This is not to say that extrinsic motivation is always wrong or harmful – it can sometimes help you to complete tasks that you find dull, unnecessary or frustrating. The two different types of motivation have functional differences and have both have importance in completing tasks [7];[8]. However, if you are more intrinsically motivated by your PGR project, you are likely to experience greater creativity and higher quality learning. 

As humans, we like to seek a meaning in the activities we do, and research has focused on how we conceptualise, create and search for meaning in our activities. It has been suggested that finding personal significant meaning in an activity can contribute to a positive experience and positive wellbeing [9]. Research has developed from the 1980’s on how meaningful long-term goals can contribute to long term positive wellbeing [10];[11]. The link between wellbeing and goals has been found to be important, without goals life would lack structure and purpose [9]. 

Pay attention to the balance of your motivation and try to find personal meaning and intrinsic motivation in what you are doing. If you experience a moment during your project, when you are unsure of why you are doing it – go back to why you started this in the first place and try to reconnect your work with those things that give you intrinsic motivation.

Video Resources

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PGR Students Talk About Their Motivation and how to Maintain it

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Supervisors Discuss PGR Students' Motivation and Wellbeing

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How a Post-PGR Student Kept and Maintained Their Motivation



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