22 SES 14 D, Diversity of Staff and (PhD) Students
The numbers of students undertaking PhD studies at universities is growing substantially, however recent research indicates that doctoral candidates experience poor wellbeing outcomes during their studies. Data from the UK suggests that over 40 per cent of postgraduate students report symptoms of depression, emotion-related concerns, or high levels of stress (Guthrie, Lichten, van Belle, Ball, Knack, & Hofman, 2017). Literature from Australia, likewise, shows that conditions of ill-being are becoming widespread in higher degree by research environments. The hardships commonly connected with these experiences include high levels of work demands and work-life conflict, low job control and poor support from project supervisor/s (Guthrie et al., 2017). In this presentation we argue that the competitive, market driven ideologies plaguing the higher education sector that have accompanied quests for internationalization contribute to many of these hardships.
We respond to the call for perspectives exploring how internationalization is experienced across Higher Education settings, by presenting findings from a recent study of postgraduate student experiences at a regional Australian university. We frame the presentation around the research question: How are students’ experiences of doctoral study being impacted by Internationalization?
The research was designed as a mixed methods study which engages with critical social theory (Denzin, 2010). Importantly, the study was conducted by researchers who are themselves doctoral candidates, each at different stages of completion. This subjective and embedded perspective incorporates and recognises the lived experiential lens of the researchers (Rowley, 2014) who are experiencing first-hand the internationalization of higher education. Whilst such an approach reduces generalisability, it also provides a far deeper understanding of the organisational and societal contexts with which the research is situated (Zivkovic, 2012) and the results remain transferable (Misco, 2007).
The study employed a convergent parallel mixed method (Creswell, 2014), which concurrently collected qualitative and quantitative data for the purpose of comparison, relationship development, and subsequent interpretation (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011; Stentz et al., 2012). This paper draws primarily on the qualitative data from an online survey of postgraduate students conducted in 2017 within one regional university in Australia. The online survey was completed by 222 postgraduate students. The quantitative data provided a starting point for the analysis, highlighting the areas doctoral students rated as being of greatest importance. The priority in this paper is to provide a forum for students’ voices to be heard, therefore the qualitative data is the emphasis of the findings and discussion in this manuscript. Two of the research team independently analysed the responses to gain an overall picture of the emergent themes, then analysed and coded the data using NVivo. The researchers developed themes inductively from the data to form the basis of the findings (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
The findings of the study revealed that while doctoral study requires deep sustained engagement to successfully contribute to a field of study at the highest level, PhD students experienced shallow supports which they perceived as insufficient to meet their candidature needs. The most prominent concerns perceived by doctoral students related to time and money. They further expressed concerns about the level and type of accessible institutional support and characterised the process of doctoral study as dehumanising. While internationalization trends towards intensification of ICT based and virtual means of study in the field of higher education appear to offer additional opportunities for flexible support for postgraduate students (Svensson & Wihlborg, 2010), findings from the postgraduate experience study indicated that doctoral students need more solid forms of support. Many doctoral students found it difficult to arrange to meet with their supervision teams, described difficulties navigating complex and bureaucratic university systems and accessing specialised research skills training. We characterised the findings as ‘the shallows of the postgraduate experience’. Discussing the findings of this study in relation to Bauman’s (2005) metaphor of liquid modernity, the authors depict the age of internationalization as a time of liquid institutional support in the globalised higher education industry and reveal the ways that doctoral students experience liquid support as damaging to their wellbeing. Given the shallows of institutional support in the contemporary internationalisation of postgraduate research, we argue that doctoral student success rests largely on self-navigation, individual resourcefulness and the ability for students to locate their own anchoring ports. This paper troubles the standardisation of postgraduate experiences in an age of internationalization of higher education. We advocate for wholistic support processes within doctoral study programs and conclude with some recommendations based on the types of supports that PhD students suggested we contextualise these for European higher education contexts.
Bauman, Z. (2005). Liquid life. [electronic resource]. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, & mixed method approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Denzin, N. K. (2010). Moments, mixed methods, and paradigm dialogs. Qualitative inquiry, 16(6), 419-427. Guthrie, S., Lichten, C., van Belle, J., Ball, S., Knack, A. & Hofman, J. (2017). Understanding mental health in the research environment A Rapid Evidence Assessment. RAND Europe, Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust. Retrieved https://royalsociety.org/~/media/news/2017/understanding-mental-health-in-the-research-environment.PDF Misco, T. (2007). The frustrations of reader generalizability and grounded theory: Alternative considerations for transferability. Journal of Research Practice, 3(1), 10. Rowley, H. (2014). Going beyond procedure: engaging with the ethical complexities of being an embedded researcher. Management in Education, 28(1), 19-24. Stentz, J., Clark, V., & Matkin, G. (2012). Applying mixed methods to leadership research: A review of current practices. Leadership Quarterly, 23(6), 1173-1183. Svensson, L., & Wihlborg, M. (2010). Internationalising the content of higher education: the need for a curriculum perspective. Higher Education, 60(6), 595-613. Zivkovic, J. (2012). Strengths and weaknesses of business research methodologies: Two disparate case studies. Business Studies Journal, 4(2), 91-99.
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