Global reflections on challenges for international research candidates in higher education: A duo-ethnographic case study of supervision and mentoring

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Despite universities being long-established venues of patronage, there has been relatively little scrutiny of such practices, especially in the supervision of doctoral candidates (Baker, 2015; Ehrich, Hansford, & Tennent, 2004; Lindén, Ohlin, & Brodin, 2013). Yet, supervisors claim it to be the “most rewarding aspect of academic life” because it affords opportunities to debate recent literature, and engage in deep conversations about developments in theory, methods, and discipline matters (Halse, 2011, p. 560). Similarly, doctoral students acknowledge these relationships as paramount, especially when there are genuine interpersonal interactions that extend beyond dealing exclusively with academic concerns (Son & Park, 2014; Yu & Wright, 2016). Supervision involves a multiplicity of features from transference of skills and knowledge, through role modeling, to psychological support, and career advice (Kalpazidou-Schmidt & Faber, 2016). This is not to suggest that there is a singular style, as supervision can be characterized as laissez-faire, pastoral, directorial, and contractual (Gatfield, 2005); it can focus on being a caring relationship reflecting enthusiasm, warmth, and understanding (Mainard, van der Rijst, van Tartwijk, & Wubbels, 2009); or encompass a scaffold approach comprising significant initial assistance that gradually diminishes in intensity to encourage candidate independence and formation of wider networks (Deuchar, 2008; Mantai, 2017). Fundamentally though, it is acknowledged that these relationships are complex and operate best where there is flexibility, reflection, and scope for open discussion (Deuchar, 2008). In the context of a competitive, globalised education landscape, and with greater proportions of students pursuing PhDs, expanding the scholarship on doctoral supervision has merit (Brooks, Franklin-Phipps and Rath, 2018; Hardy, Grootenboer, & Bristol, 2016; Johnson, Lee, & Green, 2000). This is particularly apt in the local tertiary education setting as Australia is third-favored as a foreign destination for higher education enrolment (Australian Government, 2020), with forty percent of those graduating with a PhD comprising international students (Lee, 2019). While all doctoral students encounter difficulties, foreign candidates experience “a wide range of academic and socio-cultural challenges” that can hinder “their levels of satisfaction with their studies” (Yu & Wright, 2016, p. 49). Given increasing pressure to achieve completions within tight timeframes (Deuchar, 2008; Halse, 2011; Winchester-Seeto et al., 2014), the tensions and challenges for supervisors and their international doctoral students are worthy of further exploration (Washington & Cox, 2016). This presentation examines the small but growing body of literature on these supervisory relationships, drawing on themes that have emerged from an ongoing qualitative study of supervision and mentoring, and proposes potential avenues to enhance the supervision of international higher degree research candidates.
Period21 May 2020
Event titleInternational Communication Association (ICA) Preconference : Opportunities, Tensions, and Challenges of Global Higher Education
Event typeConference
LocationRobina, Australia, Queensland
Degree of RecognitionNational