Psychological Adjustment of Chinese PhD Students: A Narrative Study

Chun Yan Yang, Li Bai
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 595-614

International PhD students suffer a lot of stress. However, many studies about international students focus on identifying the stressors these students experience rather than the stress-coping strategies, and those that explore international students’ coping behaviour often report maladjustments.

This study intended to fill the research gap by examining the strategies that Chinese students employed to psychologically adjust to their PhD study.

Narrative inquiry method was employed to give voice to the research participants. Six Chinese doctoral students in social sciences in Australian universities were purposefully sampled and interviewed three times during their candidature in order to gain an in-depth understanding of their lived experiences of stress-coping.

This paper provides positive stress-coping strategies used by six Chinese doctoral students, which can be used by international doctoral students or those who work with doctoral students from abroad to improve their psychological well-beings.

These Chinese PhD students adopted positive stress-coping strategies of regulating their emotions and retaining their motivation. They adopted illusory and interpretive forms of secondary control by reframing realities to obtain psychological peace when faced with stress. The ways that Chinese PhD students handled stress suggest that the Chinese moral education and the characteristic motivation for learning attributed them with positive personal characteristics to battle the adverse conditions.

Institutions/departments can initiate support groups for PhD students from the same disciplines where students can express their stress, seek assistance from senior doctoral students and exchange their strategies.
Institutions/departments can also support international doctoral candidates by taking a more flexible approach to policies and procedures concerning doctoral students taking leave both in terms of when it is taken and the duration.

Researchers can focus on international doctoral students’ positive stress-coping experiences as well as negative experiences to present a balanced picture of the doctoral journey.

The findings from this research on doctoral students’ stress-coping can equip doctoral students with strategies to handle their psychological challenges, which in turn may enhance their overseas doctoral experiences, reduce the dropout rates, and raise awareness of supervisors and institutions about doctoral students’ psychological well-beings.

Future research can examine the stress-coping experiences of other international doctoral students, focusing not only from the individual psychological angle but from the academic and social perspectives.

Chinese PhD students, stress coping, secondary control, qualitative interviews, psychological adjustments
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