Dr. Simone Volet is an international highly recognized researcher who focused her studies on motivation, emotion, self- and social regulation, social interaction, higher education, and learning and instruction. She contributed to the field of cultural issues in higher education and to our understanding of socio-cognitive, socio-cultural and situative perspectives on learning. Dr. Volet contributions to theory are crucial, particularly with her development of a multi-dimensional and multi-level cognitive-situative framework for understanding learning and motivation at the “experiential interface”, across contexts and cultural educational practices.
Her publications include numerous peer-reviewed empirical and theoretical articles in top-level international peer-refereed journals and books. In addition, she is co-editor of two published books in EARLI book series. She was honored with the inaugural EARLI “Outstanding Publication Award”. Professor Volet is currently engaged as a reviewer in numerous scientific journals. She is active as a member of several international Editorial Boards as well as in numerous international and national scientific research Advisory Boards. Furthermore, she has been holding the office of the Chief Investigator of many major projects funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery, Linkage, and Large grants schemes) and the Australian National Training Authority.
As an invited keynote speaker in many international conferences, including several EARLI conferences, and as a teacher in international summer schools she has achieved the highest academic standards. As a part of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), she is a past president of the Educational, Instructional, and School Psychology Division and was coordinator (2001-2005) of the Special Interest Group Motivation and Emotions within EARLI.
In light of these achievements, Dr. Volet was awarded the EARLI Motivation and Emotion SIG Lifetime Award in 2018. To learn more about her career, motivations, and research, we conducted an interview with her.
Why did you focus your research on learning, motivation, and higher education?
Gaining insight into how learning (in the broad sense) and cognitive development occur naturally, but can also be facilitated through various activities and in interaction with others have always been of the greatest interest to me, already as a school teacher. Watching how some of my students learnt, reasoned and understood concepts easily, while others struggled fascinated and challenged me as a teacher. While my initial teacher training had been very successful in preparing me for teaching multi-level classes across all areas of the primary curriculum, it had been more limited in helping me develop a sound understanding of the nature of human learning and cognitive development, and this extended to understanding motivational and emotional processes, as well classroom social dynamics. This gap in my teacher education is what motivated me initially to undertake further studies at university, which eventually evolved into postgraduate and doctoral studies and continuing research in these areas. The applied focus of my research in higher education rather than in school contexts was more related to convenience than deliberate choice.
If it wasn’t research in psychology, what field would you be working in and why?
Given the opportunity, I would pursue research in the local history of education in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, especially the Canton de Vaud, which I got a taste of a part of my “Mémoire de licence” at the University of Geneva. I found exploring the complex and evolving interactions (social, economic, political) of different stakeholders (teachers, parents, local school authorities, the Canton) at various historical times, through archival documents absolutely fascinating to understand today’s situations and challenges in education.
What did you like most when teaching in summer schools?
I found teaching in the summer schools for junior researchers one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career. The SIG Motivation and Emotion summer schools present fantastic opportunities for junior and more experienced researchers to engage collaboratively with contemporary challenging research issues, conceptual, methodological and empirical. I have enjoyed sharing my understanding and experience but also feeling challenged and pushed further in my own thinking by their burning, sometimes difficult questions. I found the scholarly exchange that takes place in these summer schools of very high standard and rewarding for everyone. The summer schools I participated in were excellently organized, with a combination of stimulating discussions and a wonderfully warm and supportive local environment.
You have published many scientific papers. What was your motivation for writing all of these publications?
The large majority of my publications are co-authored, which reflects the importance I have given to collaborative research throughout my career. My co-authored publications are the product of stimulating, close collaboration with colleagues in the field of educational psychology, but also genuine research partnerships with colleagues from other, complementary fields (e.g. in the case of applied field research, with colleagues in computer science, or business, or veterinary medicine). Many of my publications are with junior researchers and doctoral students, locally and internationally. Sharing the full process of designing a study, carrying it out, writing up the results, and monitoring the submission and revision of a journal article in a supportive way is appreciated by junior researchers as less daunting and frustrating.
In your opinion, what will be the biggest obstacles in future research in motivational psychology?
Future developments in research in motivational psychology and educational psychology more generally may depend on researchers’ capacity to combine the design and then integrate the findings of studies that use different lenses and research methodologies, and are conducted in culturally diverse environments. Understanding individual motivation and emotion needs situated research conducted in real-life, meaningful evolving learning activities, activities that capture the complex and dynamic, individual and contextual, social nature of such phenomena. But it also requires, on the one hand rigorous experimental studies that can test systematically ideas emerging from exploratory studies, and on the other hand research that explores the influence of broader aspects as well, such as class, school, educational systems, societal values, and culturally rewarded or inhibited social practices, for e.g. what is perceived as acceptable display of emotions and social regulation of emotions in group situations.
Involvement in EARLI
How did you start your affiliation with EARLI?
My affiliation with EARLI started in 1986, shortly after receiving a letter from Prof Robert-Jan Simons with whom I was corresponding regarding his research. In that letter, he informed me that a European association for research on learning and instruction had just been formed at Leuven in Belgium the year before, and that given my research interests I would probably be interested in joining. He also told me that a conference would be held in Tübingen, Germany the year after. I was very excited about this news given my European background and immediately joined the association, and went to Tübingen for my first EARLI conference in 1987. Since then, I attended all EARLI conferences, without any exception, which says it all!
To make Australian academics aware of EARLI (the only international conference they knew about at the time was AERA) and to encourage them to join the new association, I volunteered to be the EARLI national correspondent for Australia shortly after joining the association. For many years, I actively promoted EARLI in Australia. I am very proud to say that EARLI has been my academic home since the late 80s, and joining the
SIG Motivation and Emotion (WATM in the early days) was naturally part of this. All my international research collaboration throughout my entire academic career has been with EARLI members, specifically members of the SIG Motivation and Emotion. I felt very honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Recognition award from our SIG and thank everyone for their kind words and special messages.
Could you give some valuable suggestions for future researchers?
Successful research, in my view, is linked to passion for the pursuit of important, meaningful research questions. Scholars who are passionate, have a genuine interest in what they are studying, are rigorous in their conceptual and analytical approach to do research, and undertake research aimed at making a difference in the real world tend to be the best researchers. Already when I was a doctoral student, and throughout my career, I have been attracted by researchers who can share their passion and enthusiasm for research with others, especially with junior researchers. With passion and enthusiasm in the pursuit of important research questions, setbacks along the way such as rejections in the publication process, are more easily put into perspective, which is important for future researchers to realize. Collaborative research with passionate colleagues is stimulating and rewarding for everyone involved, experienced and junior researchers alike, locally and internationally, therefore, I would recommend future researchers to join and further initiate such research teams.
Martin Daumiller & Julia Morinaj