Scholar Spotlight: Sarah Schiffecker on An International Bildungsroman: Narrative Explorations of Women International Students' Experiences in Preparing to Enter the Academic Job Market
In honor of International Women's Day, we are excited to share Dr. Sarah Schiffecker’s dissertation research on this important topic, “An International Bildungsroman: Narrative Explorations of Women International Students' Experiences in Preparing to Enter the Academic Job Market.”
Dr. Schiffecker’s research highlights the need to understand and support the unique challenges faced by women international PhD holders transitioning to professional academia. With limited research on post-graduation pathways for this group, this study provides essential insights to empower these women and enrich the international faculty pipeline.
This study's implications call for action: Consider international students' career aspirations, provide tailored career advising, heighten awareness of women international students' needs, train specialized advisors and mentors, and promote internal mattering among international graduate students.
Here is a short summary of the major findings:
International students represent a vital component of U.S. campuses and play a major role in the diversification and internationalization of U.S. higher education. They bring unique perspectives, experiences, and expertise to academic institutions, contributing to a richer and more diverse learning environment for all. With international enrollment, particularly at the graduate level, seeing an upward trend after the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States will continue to produce a large number of international graduates with PhD degrees, many of whom seeking to enter the U.S. academic work force they have been trained and prepared for.
While international graduate students face numerous challenges when navigating the complexities of transitioning from doctoral programs to professional academia, women international PhD holders traditionally experience more challenges and hurdles than their male counterparts. These challenges include limited opportunities for professional development, gender bias, and cultural barriers. Therefore, it is important to understand the transitional experiences of women international PhD students to gain insights into the ways in which institutions can better support this student population.
My research study employed a narrative design to explore the educational journeys of seven women who obtained their doctoral degrees as F-1 international students at U.S. higher education institutions. Through narrative interviews, data was collected and subsequently analyzed. The theoretical framework guiding this study emerged from a Borderland approach to theory and resulted in a model of transitional mattering throughout anticipatory socialization. When talking about transitional experiences, feelings of marginality and mattering play a central role in shaping all phases of the transfer and socialization process. The ways in which the interviewed women felt like they did or did not matter throughout their transitions from doctoral programs to aspiring to enter professional U.S. academia informed an addition of internal mattering to the model of transitional mattering and further produced themes around the importance of choice when it comes to career trajectories, the importance of the role of advisors and mentors, as well as the support from a network and community of peers.
The key takeaways from this study are:
- The ways in which the interviewed women felt like they did or did not matter throughout their transitions from doctoral programs to aspiring to enter professional U.S. academia informed an addition of internal mattering to the model of transitional mattering and further produced themes around the importance of choice when it comes to career trajectories, the importance of the role of advisors and mentors, as well as the support from a network and community of peers.
- It’s important to increased focus on international students’ career aspirations and giving them choices throughout career advising, an increased awareness of the specific needs of women international students, the specialized training of career advising staff as well as faculty advisors and mentors, and finally an increased focus on the promotion and facilitation of internal mattering among international graduate students.
The key quotes from this study include:
In this quotes, participants reflect on personal growth through diverse encounters, the unique challenges international students face, feelings of discouragement due to limited opportunities, concerns about work-life balance and childcare responsibilities, navigating academia with different cultural and language backgrounds, asserting one's identity and overcoming fear, and staying motivated in academia by focusing on personal passion and purpose.
“Alles, was uns begegnet, läßt Spuren zurück. Alles trägt unmerklich zu unserer Bildung bei.” [Everything we encounter leaves traces behind. Everything contributes imperceptibly to our education.] (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre).
“I think it's been like a journey of self-discovery and what I value the most is that I've gotten to know so many people from so very different backgrounds that I've learned from other perspectives, and I've learned to consider other perspectives and like, move out of this, like, box, I was probably in.”
“But I was always like, y'all are talking about internships and free and unpaid internships and shit and volunteering to get experience outside of academia so you can get jobs. But as international students, we cannot do that. Do you still not understand like don't. Pointless.”
“I really don't feel that I have the same choices as they have, which is sometimes just very you know, it's definitely not a good feeling. I understand that each country has regulations for international people, but. It's just when I think about how much I have invested in my educational journey, in my degrees, and when I when I am on the job market, I'm still like not being treated based on my qualifications. Like, there's other things that people would think would consider when, when hiring me. So that's something that. That has been very discouraging for me.”
“As you know, it's just really not easy for me to make to actually make that decision, especially for me now that I’m a post doc, which is a temporary job. I would be worried how my supervisors would think if I decide to have a child, because I would need child care support. I need maternity leave and stuff like that. And for post docs, I'm not sure I will have those benefits. And what if my supervisors want to replace me.”
“I would compare me as a woman and to someone who is not a woman who don't have to have that childcare responsibility. And I will look at how much they can produce academically. It's not that I don't have the ability to produce as much as they can. It's just there are things that I cannot. They're more responsibilities for me to handle. So. Yeah. Sometimes it's just frustrating.”
“I know it's hard, like I said, especially for women, but really. Especially for us coming with a different cultural and language and all the background that we have, which is different from here. I guess it's very important for all of us to make decisions on time and not to be scared. Like if you're not happy with your advisor, just change it. You know, if you're not happy with your topic, change it. If you. If you need help and advice, seek for it. Don't. Don't stay stuck. Don't sit and wait.”
“I think because of my identity, because me being an international student, I was very self-protective and also like I was competitive as well. I think there are many moments that I was afraid that people would think I'm stupid or I'm not a Ph.D. material.”
“But you have to figure out why you want to choose this job. This this is not a high paid job. This is not a well-paid job. And sometimes what you what you are doing is unpredictable. It just that's why I think the most important thing is that you have thinking about the reason that why you want to be here. And if you have that reason. Like for me, I love teaching. I love this environment. So that will be easier for me to stay in. Otherwise, it will be really hard.”
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