Overseas Doctoral Students' Identity Evolution
Hsiang, Ying Ying Nikko
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This qualitative research follows narrative enquiry principles and explores the implications of studying abroad for overseas doctoral students’ identity evolution. The research argues for the legitimacy of the concept that views identity as a state that evolves over time and across space as it undergoes ambivalence and emancipation (Bhabha 2004; Hall, 1990; Rutherford, 1990). The inquiry was informed by the data collected from in-depth interviews of eight overseas doctoral students from seven nationalities, three academic disciplines, and at different stages in their Ph.D. research. They were individually interviewed four times with an interval of three months in between from 2011 to 2012. The narratives concerning their learning and living experience, interpreted in the light of academic, personal, social, and cultural and national aspects of life, contextualise the participants and reveal their identity evolution and hybrid identities. Findings address dynamics of the Ph.D. journey, supervisory issues, socio-economic factors, national and cultural identities developed overseas, change over time and across space, and impact of being involved in this study. These findings reveal that the overseas doctoral students’ doctoral journey is extraordinary in that it reflects a period of time that is dynamic and destabilizing; it can pose the risk of a loss of cultural identity; it can be transactional; it reveals the family as a strong support system; it illustrates that global awareness is fluid that the social life can undergo ambivalence and emancipation from social codes and cultural norms, and that hybrid identities have various forms. The implications of this study are that there is no linear progression in identity evolution, that being empowering is not always the result of hybrid identities, that a past-present-future dynamic emerges to facilitate identity evolution, and that an overseas doctoral education is part of a personal life spectrum. My study underscores the value of the role of a holistic supervisor that unifies the roles of a mentor and an advisor; indicates that Ph.D. host institution is advised to see overseas doctoral students as more than ‘students’ but as whole persons developing under different circumstances; and, problematises the notion of objectivity in conducting a research study such as this one in which the advantage of empathy outweighs the risks of subjectivity. I distinguished between what I found to be particular to overseas students as compared to observations that I found to be applicable to all doctoral students. While Ph.D. phases, student-Ph.D. relationship, additional requirements and work during the Ph.D. process, supervisor issues, and identity presentation, shifts, and management were indicative of the general doctoral students’ learning and living experiences, writing concerns, socio-economic factors that involved home country situations, friendship sought in a different context, socio-cultural adjustment, and cultural and national identities were signposts of the doctoral student with overseas status. Most importantly, my study suggests that overseas doctoral students are distinct and worth studying and their identities were responsible for a myriad of situations for them to evolve.
PhD in Education