Research Supervision of International Doctoral Students: Perspectives of International Students in Two Comprehensive Universities in China

Marinette Bahtilla
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 17  •  2022  •  pp. 181-199

This study aimed to explore the challenges faced by international doctoral students in Chinese universities and find out what international doctoral students perceive to be effective supervision.

As higher education internationalization is proliferating, there is a need for adjustment in every educational system. Despite the rise in the internationalization of higher education in China, very little research has been carried out on internalization at the doctoral level. Since research forms an essential part of doctoral programs, it is necessary to examine the challenges international students face as far as research supervision is concerned.

This study employed the exploratory case study research design adopting the qualitative research methodology. The study participants were 68 doctoral students from two comprehensive universities in China. A comprehensive university consists of diverse programs and students: for example, master’s programs, doctoral programs, undergraduate programs, and professional programs. Data were collected using a semi-structured interview guide. The qualitative data collected was analyzed thematically.

This study offers new insights into the research supervision of international doctoral students. This study suggests that every university hosting international students should pay attention to doctoral students’ research supervision and implement appropriate strategies such as those proposed in this study to allow international students to acquire new knowledge and skills as far as research is concerned. This study also proposed some strategies based on what doctoral students perceive to be effective supervision that universities can implement to improve research supervision.

The study found that international doctoral students faced many challenges regarding research supervision. These challenges are language barriers, ineffective communication with supervisors, insufficient time to discuss with supervisors, cultural differences and adapting to a new environment, depression, and forcing students to change research topics. Moreover, this study found that the following strategies can be implemented to improve research supervision of international students: considering student’s research interests when assigning them to supervisors, the need for a specific time to meet with supervisors, providing or directing students where to get research materials, in-service training for research supervisors, and evaluating and modifying criteria for selecting supervisors.

University administrators can establish informal research supervision learning communities that can enable supervisors from different universities to share cross-cultural supervision ideas and learn from one another. Moreover, it is necessary for supervisors to guide and direct students both in academics and social life to help them overcome depression; isolation, and adapt to a new environment.

This study was limited to two universities, and the participants were international doctoral students in English-taught programs. However, the situation may differ with international doctoral students in Chinese-taught programs. As a result, the researchers suggest that another study should be carried out focusing on international doctoral students in Chinese taught programs; their experiences may differ.

Doctoral students are significant contributors to the research productivity of an institution. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that they acquire sustainable research skills to solve the complex problems affecting the education sector and society at large.

It is vital to explore international doctoral supervision in other disciplines as well as universities.

international doctoral supervision, improving research supervision, internationalization of higher education research supervisors, research challenges, international education
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