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Transitions across the multi-worlds: Experiences of Chinese international doctoral students in STEM fields

Yang, Yibo (2019) Transitions across the multi-worlds: Experiences of Chinese international doctoral students in STEM fields. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The focus of the study is the nature of experiences of Chinese international doctoral students (CIDS) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and the influences that facilitate or constrain their positive and on-time completion of a PhD abroad. Situated in the research, social, and cultural contexts, this narrative inquiry uses a conceptual framework that incorporates a three-dimensional space (continuity, interaction, and situation dimensions) and a multi-world model (research, personal, and social worlds) to interpret CIDS’ experiences. Positioning myself as an insider and an outsider in this research, I generated data through interviews and focus groups with 38 CIDS over a 2.5-year period. To maximise experiences in the research, the participants were at different points in their PhD study and in different locations around Australia.

The study identified six patterns of congruence or difference and the corresponding transitions across participants’ multi-worlds, which were reported individually with both cross-case and within-case narratives. The study also identified socio-cultural, psychosocial, socio-relational, linguistic, socio-economic, institutional, and gender borders that may constrain CIDS’ PhD study in specific situations.

Evidence shows congruence facilitates academic and personal growth, but difference does not necessarily mean constraint when differences are respected and understood. Rather, it is how the transitions occur that is important for the success of transnational and transcultural PhD study. When border transitions are smooth or manageable, students may grow into competent, confident, and calm researchers; when transitions are difficult or resisted, students experience problematic relationships which may constrain their research progress and, in the worst scenario, may lead to attrition. To better facilitate the PhD abroad, communication (referred to as agentic communication) between significant agents in students’ multi-worlds is important to prevent the escalation of minor issues. Loneliness may occur during the PhD abroad, but an integrated philosophy developed by students facilitates their academic success and personal transformation. This study contributes to the literature on international doctoral students’ experiences with conceptual, empirical, methodological, and practical implications.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Supervisor(s): MacCallum, Judy
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