Experiences of Chinese International Doctoral Students in Canada Who Withdrew: A Narrative Inquiry

Yan Gao
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 259-276

For the purpose of better understanding the reasons of their withdrawal and experiences, this study seeks to elicit the voices of Chinese international students who have withdrawn from doctoral studies in Canada.

This study used Tinto’s institutional departure model as a framework. His model illustrates that the experience of individuals in that institution modifies their initial intentions and commitments. The scholarly literature on degree completion of graduate students and existing studies on experiences of international students in the North American context also guided the inquiry of this study.

This is a qualitative study with narrative inquiry as a means for investigation and exploration. Four participants were recruited by purposive sampling, and in-depth interview was used as the approach to collect data. Data were collected in Mandarin and were transcribed into texts. Two rounds of analysis were applied and then the findings were translated into English.

This study added information to the literature on international doctoral students’ experiences and explained how socio-cultural factors could impact doctoral students’ decision-making.

The themes included: experiences with doctoral supervisors; partnership and the perception of gender roles; family of origin and the importance of education; and educational differences between China and Canada.

At a practice level, universities could consider delivering series of workshops to help international graduate students start their journey. Departmental administrative bodies could consider building community for doctoral students and tracking their study paths to better assist students. Given the increased number of international students on campuses, it is time for university staff and faculties to become more aware of what a more diverse student population means. Professional development workshops would help to develop professors’ cultural awareness.

My research is an example of addressing translation issues in cross-language and cross-cultural settings. Qualitative research is considered valid when the distance between the meanings as experienced by the participants and the meanings as interpreted in the findings is as close as possible. Therefore, I would recommend in the condition that if the researcher and the participant(s) share the same language, the best practice would be to transcribe and analyze data in the original language to shorten the distance from the meanings that are made by participants and the meanings that are interpreted by the researcher(s). Language meanings do lose during the translation process; as researchers, we should try our best to present our participants as truly as possible.

The number of international students who choose to conduct doctoral studies is increasing every year. They are making contributions to the host countries in various ways such as contribution to the enrichment of higher education, the development of research, the promotion of global understanding etc. However, their study status and overall well-being may not be getting enough attention from both the scholarly research and in real practice. Thus, the experiences shared by my research participants who used to be doctoral students and left their studies halfway could add value and knowledge to the understanding of this group of students and to better assist the internationalization of higher education institutions.

Future studies could probe more on other ethnicities and cultures. Also, numerous studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between doctoral students and their supervisors; however, the incompatibility between doctoral students and their supervisors and coping strategies in that situation is still an area that needs more investigation.

doctoral students, withdrawal, cultural differences, Chinese international students
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