Interview with Professor Beryl Hesketh

By McIlveen, Peter | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Interview with Professor Beryl Hesketh

McIlveen, Peter, Australian Journal of Career Development

Professor Beryl Hesketh is an internationally regarded figure in the field of career development. Professor Hesketh's leadership is acknowledged in her being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia. She is also a Fellow the Australian Psychological Society and the USA Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She received the Elton Mayo Award in 1997 for her contribution to research and teaching in organisational psychology. Currently, Professor Hesketh is the Executive Dean of the College of Health and Science at the University of Western Sydney.

Professor Hesketh, how did you come into career development research?


It is a complex story, and because I have such a high respect for career researchers, I will give the honest rather than a reconstructed response. Having grown up on a farm, I thought I wanted to do biological or agricultural science at a local university. I was fortunate in being part of the Rotary Scholarship program which meant at the age of 16, I spent a year in upstate New York with a range of wonderful parents, one of whom was a Personnel Manager. This exposed me to a slightly different world view at Cape Town University, where I chose to study psychology. My basic interest in science was strong, however, and I found myself orienting towards physiological psychology. During my honours year I was about to undertake a really innovative study in physiological psychology, but I found I personally could not experiment on animals (although I fully support and understand the need for animal experimentation). I completely changed my honours topic halfway through honours and completed a project on job satisfaction, for which I obtained a first class honours. This was when I became a Personnel Psychologist, as we were called in those days.

We migrated to New Zealand, and I obtained a job in Personnel (now HR) in an insurance company-I had worked for a SA Insurance company for a year between my third year and honours degree (something I think really helped). I was always interested in decision-making and selection, and career decisions seemed to be two sides of a coin. To keep myself stimulated while I was working in Wellington, New Zealand, I enrolled in a Masters by Research with Victoria University of Wellington (under Laurie Brown), and my topic was self concept in decision-making, testing Super's theory using Police Cadets. This was the start of my interest in Person-Environment fit research. It was a wonderful study, but at that stage in my career, I was not aware that one should publish. I became bored with Personnel work, so spent a couple of years with the Vocational Guidance Service. This was good training especially in terms of caring and counselling. I always value the client focus of careers counsellors, but my personnel background made me realise the need to understand an employer's perspective. In my later life, I hope that my research and approach has been one of recognising that one needs both the individual and the organisational perspective, and that is why I have become an advocate of Work Adjustment Theory.

I then followed my husband to Palmerston North as he wanted to do a PhD with David Sandoz. The only job I could get was as an academic at Massey University. There I taught industrial and organisational psychology, and completed my PhD on psychological aspects of unemployment, testing attribution theory. I became bored and moved from a continuing Senior Lectureship at Massey to a contract lectureship at the University of New South Wales. It was the best thing I have ever done, and I would encourage others not to assume that a career should always involve a linear movement up the hierarchy.

I know that over the years you have contributed to the field of applied psychology in many ways--may I ask you to say something about this interest in vocational psychology?

I found a home in vocational psychology, perhaps because there were such strong theoretical positions that one could test and address. …

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