A troubled geography of doctoral supervision: An examination of the multifaceted journeys undertaken by international doctoral students

Year: 2018

Author: Greenwood, Janinka

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

When international students come to a university in New Zealand or Australia they are forced to travel in many ways. There is the journey from their homeland, perhaps Malaysia, Iran, Vietnam, China or Bangladesh, to a university they have selected because it is ‘western’. This journey crosses land and sea and often involves separation from friends and family.  It also often involves entry into a place where status changes,  new protocols and values hold sway instead of the values and protocols of the homeland, and  adventure  can too swiftly transform  into loneliness.
There are other journeys that many students take without awareness. There is a journey across knowledge systems. In Australia and New Zealand we are finally waking up to the fact that indigenous knowledges exist, have equal validity and are fundamental to indigenous well-being and development. We often do not recognise the importance of our international students’ value systems or their ways of knowing. However, they need to navigate between the epistemologies that underpin western academia and those that have shaped their own culture.
Language can represent yet another journey. There is not only the shift from home language to English, but also a shift from English as it was learned at home and English at the university. Words are used differently, metaphors don’t translate, and difficult concepts slide through clumsy nets of words.
Finally there is a journey back home: what will the graduate take back? A degree? New ways of looking at practices? Employability? New ways of investigation? Personal transformation? Skills that translate to new situations? Unrealistic expectations? A sense of alienation? New commitment and direction?
This presentation reports a project of on-going critical reflection into my learning as a doctoral supervisor and the shared reflections of international doctoral students. It focuses on:

importance of recognising place in research
complexity of navigating between knowledge systems
value of research that meets the needs of the home country as well as satisfying academic standards
value of recognising the different, culturally and individually  shaped subjectivities that international students bring
complexities of the relationship between language and meaning
value of a supportive learning community
slippages and learnings that come through intercultural collaboration
learning that occurs in a doctorate beyond what’s written in the thesis

The presentation’s title focuses on the journey undertaken by students. They are forced to travel.  But perhaps supervisors can travel too, and gain through the process.