How are they socialized in German academia? An empirical study on Chinese doctoral students by Rui Wu

Rui Wu, Institute for Higher Education Research, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

My study is triggered by two interesting phenomena taking place in the higher education of Germany. First, despite the development of a more structured model of doctoral training, a large number of doctoral students still stay or choose to stay in the traditional master-apprentice-model. Second, although many structural programs akin to the U.S. ones are established in German universities, alternative frameworks and requirements, such as those included the training programs of external research institutes (e.g. Max-Planck-Institutes, Leibniz Graduate Schools), are still available. Given the hybridity of the education models, the experiences of doctoral students differ from each other. Some enjoy their comfortable training environments but some only share horror stories. Diversified institutional configurations and mixed guidelines could confuse international students pursuing their doctoral degrees in Germany.

Such initial observations prompted me into exploring the academic socialization of Chinese doctoral students in German academic field. They come to Germany after obtaining their master degrees in P. R. China. Some of them receive general research training by partaking well-structured institutional programs, others write their dissertations under the sole supervision of their professors (“Doktorvater” or “Doktormutter”). Different experiences are gathered and empirically analyzed in my article Academic socialization of Chinese doctoral students in Germany: identification, interaction and motivation. I try to find out what aspects of students’ life the academic socialization affects and what are the necessary conditions for a comparatively high level of academic socialization.

My study comprises three periods. The first period was a pilot-study. Interview Questions were focused on a) descriptions about their doctoral training models, b) milestones in their academic socialization process, and c) comments about their current training experiences. I concluded this period with three core variables for further quantitative analysis: identification of doctoral status, interaction with supervisor, and motivation of doing research. In the second period, I explored the necessary conditions for a comparatively high level of academic socialization in German academia. In the third period, I conducted a series of in-depth interviews based on the results of the quantitative analysis, aiming to find specific explanations for high level of academic socialization.

In light of Stein’s and Weidman’s four-stage framework, my study finds out three crucial aspects of the academic socialization of Chinese doctoral students in Germany: the clarity of identification, the efficacy of interaction with supervisor, and the steadiness of motivation. The identification of Chinese doctoral students, involving processes taking place in both formal and personal realms, concerns perception of faculty identity, boundary between student and supervisor, different organizational formats of doctoral training situations. Regarding interactions with supervisors, the barriers occur at both formal and informal occasions. One key solution for international students is to acquire acceptable behavioral clues in German academia and to make according adjustments actively. My study observes that Chinese doctoral students have consciously developed a set of behavioral strategies regarding how to make good arguments, how to response, and how to choose the right doctoral parenthood. Moreover, three motivations by which Chinese doctoral students continue doing their research with good self-efficacy are also summarized under cultural, sociological, and psychological perspectives. It enables the discussion in a broader theoretical context. More practice-based insights can be found in a transnational doctoral education context.

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