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Vocational interests and career maturity of male high school students talented in math and science


This study examined the relationships among career interest, career maturity, academic performance, and academic interest of senior-high students talented in science and math. Subjects consisted of 170 talented students and 170 regular students in the Taipei area. Instruments for collecting data included the Career Interest Inventory, the Career Development Inventory, and the Academic Performance and Interest scale. The major findings were: that the two groups differed in four selected variables, the talented group showing a higher level of career maturity in particular; and that there were significant relationships between career variables and academic attributes.

Key words:
Career Interest, Career Maturity, Academic Performance, Gifted Students

There are many theories of vocational choice and career development. Some explain occupational choice in terms of environmental influences (e.g., Caplow, 1954; Clark, 1931; Hollingshead, 1949; Miller & Form, 1964); Others find their explanations in the needs of the individual (e.g., Ginzberg et al., 1951; Hoppock, 1976; Roe, 1956; Super, 1953). However, according the Holland (1966, 1973, and 1985), there is yet a third element to be considered, namely, the interaction of the two. Holland's theory can be summarized in these words: (1) Most persons can be categorized as one of six types-Realistic, Investigative, Social, Conventional, Enterprising, and Artistic; (2) There are six kinds of environments; Realistic, Investigative, Social, Conventional, Enterprising, and Artistic; (3) People search for environments and vocations that will permit them to exercise their skills and abilities to express their attitudes and values, to take on agreeable problems and roles, and to avoid disagreeable ones; (4) A person's behavior can be explained by the interaction of his personality pattern and his environment. Holland (1973) has accordingly developed the Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI) for surveying six types of vocational interests. The VPI is basically construct-oriented and seems to be most appropriate for cross-cultural study.

In dealing with influential factors, many studies on vocational choice have focused on socioeconomic aspects and self-concept dimensions. However, there is yet the intelligence factor. It is very possible that pupils of different levels of intelligence would perceive vocations differently and make different choices. Hoppock (1976) noted that there was a contrast between the reactions of children with low and high IQs. When the six-grade class with IQs of 46 to 92 visited the knife factory, nearly everyone saw at least one beginning job that he liked. When the class with IQs of 114 to 142 visited a television-antenna plant, several pupils wouldn't like to do that kind of work because "it must get very monotonous." Rice (1978) asked 111 students in grades 8, 10, and 12 to write down three kinds of their favorite vacations and then classified their intelligence according to their preferences on the Otis Mental Ability Test. It was interesting to find out that a considerable portion of students choose professional and management vocations, especially those with lower IQs. It suggests that the less intelligent might have unrealistic life goals. On the other hand, it seems more reasonable that students with higher achievement and ability would set a higher level of vocational aspiration and proceed to prepare themselves for a more successful career than the less bright if other conditions, like motivation, responsibility, etc., are equal.

However, Perrone, Male and Karshner (1979) found that talented persons sometimes have a tendency to commit themselves to career choices prematurely, based on subject-matter fields in which they achieve considerable recognition and success. Lin (1993) found that, in two top senior high schools in Taipei city, the gifted freshman students' career goals were vague, and part of them was irrational, although they were superior to their non-gifted counterparts in "career planning' and "working world knowledge". Chen (1993) also found that there was no significant difference between gifted and non-gifted senior high school students among the index of diversity of interest, vocational trends, and career directions; however, junior high school gifted students' index of diversity of interest were higher than non-gifted students. This is in accordance with Wu & Hung's finding (1981) that the bright and normal pupils had similar factor structure in vocational preference. Holland's research (1974) shown that decisiveness among senior high students varied with the intellectual characteristics of students and there were slight gender differences. In terms of occupational aspirations, studies (Fottler & Bain, 1980; Garrison, 1979; Stocking, Hany, & Goldstein, 1992; Wu & Hung, 1981) indicated considerable differences between high school male and female students. There are sex stereotypes behind (Stocking, Hany, & Goldstein (1992), which is likely to be moderated by educational aspirations (Murrell, Frieze, & Frost, 1991; Schulenberg, Goldstein, & Vondracek, 1991) and social support (Montgomery & Benbow, 1992). What then are the role of intelligence and gender in vocational preference and maturity? There is a contradiction that indicates the need for future study, especially in difference cultural settings.

The main purpose of this study was to examine the relationships among students' intelligence and their vocational interests and career maturity. Students' academic performance and academic interests are also included as correlating variables. To control gender variable, only male students were served as the subjects in this study. More specifically, the questions to be answered were as follows:

  1. Are there any differences between gifted students and regular students in terms of vocational interests and career maturity?
  2. Are there any differences between gifted students and regular students in terms of academic performance and academic interests?
  3. Are there any significant relationships between vocational/career variables and academic attributes?



The subjects of this study consisted of 170 talented students and 170 regular students. They were the10th and the11th graders drawn from two senior high schools in the Taipei area. The former was from the gifted classes for the mathematically and scientifically talented, while the later was randomly drawn from the regular classes in the same school. All subjects were male, since only few female students participated in the gifted education program for the scientifically and mathematically talented. Table 1 shows the sample distribution.

Table 1
Sample Distribution


Three instruments were used in this study:

  1. The Vocational Interest Inventory (VII) - This Inventory was devised by Wu & Hung (1981) based on Holland's theory (1973) and the vocational awareness scale of the Barclay Classroom Climate Inventory (BCCI, see Barclay, 1974; Wu, 1975). A preliminary test and item analysis procedure was conducted. The final form of the VII consists of 118 items of six types of vocational interests, i.e., Realistic (23 items), Investigative (18 items), Artistic (20 items), Social (22 items), Enterprising (20 items), and Conventional (15 items). Two illustrating items are provided for practice. Below is one of them.
    Librarian (to take care of books in a library)
    The directions on the front page are as follows: This is an inventory of your feelings and attitudes about any kind of work. Fill out your sheet by following directions given below: (1) Show on your sheet the occupations which interest or appeal to you by checking the "Yes"; (2) Show the occupations which you dislike or find uninteresting by checking the "No"; (3) Every item should be checked, please leave no blank.
  2. Career Development Inventory (CDI) - This Inventory (school form) was originally devised by Thompson, et al. (1979) and revised into Chinese by Lin & Lin (1987). There are five scales of CDI: Career Planning (CP), Career Exploration (CE), Career Decision-Making (DM), Working World Knowledge (WW), and Preferred Occupation Knowledge (PO). The first four scales were used in this study. Two combined scales are derived from the first four scales: Career Development Attitude (CDA, combination of CP and CE) and Career Development knowledge (CDK, combination of DM and WW). The CDA and CDK are then combined into a global index of career maturity: Career Orientation (COT).
  3. Academic Performance and Interest Scale (APIS) - This Scale was devised to rate student's perceived academic performance and interest based on a 5-point rating scale.
Procedures and Data Analysis

The three instruments were administered by group. The subjects were free to ask questions relating to the meaning of the items. There was no time limit; most subjects finished the three measures in 60 minutes.

The data obtained were treated by the SPSS, including the analysis of variance (both MANOVA and ANOVA) and the Pearson product moment correlation.


Comparisons of Vocational Interests and Career Maturity

Using the Vocational Interest Total score of the VII as an index of the diversity of interest, Table 2 shows that there was no significant difference in the diversity of vocational interest between two intelligence groups as well as two grade groups.

Table 2
Mean Scores of Vocational Interests Total and Summary of ANOVA

Multivariate analysis of variance (Table 3) shows that, in general, there was a significant difference in vocational interest between the gifted group and the regular group (L=.95, p<.05). Specifically, in terms of VII subscales, the gifted students preferred investigative occupations greater than the regular ones (mean items of 11.30 and 9.59 out of total 18 items, F=10.24, p<.05).

Table 3
Mean Scores of VII Subscales and Summary of MANOVA

In terms of career development, Tables 4 and 5 show that the gifted students had better career attitude in career planning and better career knowledge in decision-making than the regular ones. According to the combined Career Orientation scale, the gifted students' showed better career maturity than the regular ones.

Table 4
Mean Scores of CDI Subscales and Summary of MANOVA

Table 5
Mean Scores of Career Development (Combined Subscales)

The results from the Vocational Interest Inventory (Tables 2 & 3) indicated that the senior high gifted male students' diversity of occupational interest was basically similar to their regular counterparts. This was in accordance with Chen's finding (1993). However, they had showed a greater career interest in the investigative domain, which was in accordance with their talents in math and science. This is different from Chen's study (1993). Their career development were not so vague and/or irrational as found by Lin (1993). Viewing from the Career Development Inventory scales (Tables 4 & 5), again, the gifted students showed more positive career attitude and were more knowledgeable than their regular counterparts, and which resulted in a better career maturity. This is quite promising, especially because all CDI mean scale scores of the two groups surpassed the norms established by Lin & Lin (1987).

Comparisons of Academic Performance and Academic Interest

The multivariate analysis of variance (Table 6) shows, in general, there was a significant interaction in academic performance between intelligence and grade variables in the study subjects, namely, Chinese, English, math, natural science, arts (fine arts and music), and athletics (L=.94, p<.05). The followed one-way analysis of variance by grade and by intelligence levels (Table 7) indicated: that the two intelligence groups differed in several study subjects in grade 10, but showed no difference in grade 11; that in grade 10, the gifted students were superior to the regular ones in math (F=3.78, p<.05), whereas the regular students performed better than the gifted students in Chinese (F=4.49, p<.05), social science (F=7.83, p<.05), and arts (F=6.98, p<.05).

Table 6
Mean Scores of Academic Performance and Summary of MANVOCA

Table 7
Comparisons of Two Groups in Different Grades on Academic Performance

In terms of academic interests in six subject areas, the multivariate analysis of variance (Table 7) shows, in general, a significant interaction between grade and intelligence variables (L=.93, <.05). The followed one-way analysis of variance by grade and by intelligence levels (Table 8) indicated: that there were more differences in grade 10 than were in grade 11 between the two intelligence groups; that the gifted students showed greater interests than their regular counterparts in math (in grade 10, F=15.30, p<.01) and natural science (in both grades, F=6.13, p<.01, and F=4.75, p<.05, respectively), whereas the regular students were more interested in studying Chinese than the gifted ones (in grade 10, F=15.54, p<.01).

Table 8
Mean Scores of Academic Interests and Summary of MANOVA

Table 9
Comparisons of Two Groups in Different Grades on Academic Interests

Different from the comparisons of vocational interest and career maturity, the differences between the gifted students and regular students in academic performance and interests were more complicated as indicated by the significant interactions by MANOVA. On the one hand, the gifted students demonstrated better math achievement and more interests in math and natural science than did their regular counterparts, especially in grade 10 when they were just placed in the gifted class. On the other hand, in some humanity subjects, such as Chinese, social science, and arts, the regular students achieved better than did the gifted ones; they also showed a greater interest in studying Chinese. This was in accordance with their talents and expectations.

It is interesting to note that the differences between the two groups in both academic performance and academic interest were decreased by grade; As a result, there was only a little difference between the two groups in grade 11. The little differentiated curriculum and instruction in the gifted class may be accounted for that. In Taiwan, because of the great pressure of entrance examinations, which focus on paper-and-pen examinations, on major subject matters, the senior high gifted students had, therefore, limited opportunities to learn differently from their regular counterparts, whose intellectual capacities were actually not inferior significantly to their gifted peers (Lin, 1993). The recent educational reform in Taiwan has called for a multi-channel and flexible college entrance system, which would be more suitable to a real leaner. In the near future, more differentiated curriculum and instruction will be implemented in Taiwan. That may make gifted students' academic performance and interests more different than their peers in regular class may and more meaningful to their career development .

Relationships between Vocational/Career Variables and Academic Attributes

Table 10 shows that there were some significant relationships between compatible vocational/career variables and academic attributes among senior high male students (the gifted and the regular as a whole). In particular, the "investigative" vocational interest was significantly, though not highly, correlated to natural science performance and interest (r=.17 and .23, p<.05 and .01, respectively). This result was in accordance with Holland's conception (1973, 1985). Surprisingly it was not significantly correlated with math attribute. But it was reasonably found that "art" vocational interest was significantly correlated with arts subject interest (r=.26, p<.01).

The compatible academic performance variable and academic interest variable were significantly, in a moderate degree, correlated as we can expect. The correlation coefficients were as follows: Chinese (.64), English (.66), math (.62), natural science (.56), social science (.61), arts (.63), and athletics (.58). This shows that the two academic attribute scales are constructively related but are different measures.

Table 10
Correlation between Vocational Interests and Academic variables (N=316)

  1. The gifted male students in senior high school outperformed the regular group in "Investigative" vocational interest.
  2. The gifted group was superior to the regular group in career maturity.
  3. The gifted group tended to surpass the regular group in academic interest and performance in both science and mathematics, but the trend was in the opposite in some courses (I.e., Chinese Literature, Living Arts, and Social Studies); this was especially true in the freshman year.
  4. There was a significant relationship between compatible vocational/career variables and academic attributes among senior high students; or between "Investigative" vocational interest and natural science performance/interest, in particular.
  5. The differences of academic attributes between the gifted and the regular were decreased by grade. This would suggest a need of more differentiated curriculum and instruction for the gifted class.
  6. Gender differences were not explored in this study. Two levels of grade were not good enough for cross-grade/age comparisons. Therefore, a longitudinal follow-up study using both sexes would be suggested for collecting more useful information regarding the career development of the gifted.

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*Paper presented at the 45th Annual Convention of National Association for Gifted Children, Louisville, USA, November 11- 18, 1998. Also published in 2000 at Proceedings of National Science Council, ROC(D), 10: 3, 126-132.