Working Toward Becoming Doctoral Researchers: A Collective Autoethnography of International Students in Australia


  • Yuqi Lin University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Jing Shi Monash University
  • Chenyang Zhang University of Melbourne, Australia



self-formation, international student experience, positioning theory, self-determination, collective autoethnography, postgraduate research


It is well established that international education can profoundly influence a student, including identity and agency formation and the acquisition of knowledge and culture. This study applies the concept of self-formation to reconceptualize the international student experience. It captures the development, changes, and operation of identity and agency during self-formation. Utilizing collective autoethnography, the authentic experiences of three international students studying in Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic were collected. These stories illustrate their transformation from international students to student researchers. Through thematic analysis, three phases have been identified in this study, which are self-exploration, self-positioning, and self-determination and shedding light on the role of agency and hybrid identity. A further scholarly investigation is advocated to enrich the discussion of self-formation and add a nuanced investigation into the variability of individual experiences.

Author Biographies

Yuqi Lin, University of Melbourne, Australia

Yuqi Lin is researching the globalization, internationalization and geographies of higher education, education leadership and policy, and the well-being of international students.

Jing Shi, Monash University

Jing Shi is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education, Monash University. Her research interests are in the area of sociology of education and include education and career decision-making in vocational education, youth transition, education policy, and the studies of agency and identity.

Chenyang Zhang, University of Melbourne, Australia

Chenyang Zhang graduated from the Faculty of Education, Monash University. Her research interests include the studies of education policy, and English language learning and teaching.


Archer, M. S. (2000). Being human: The problem of agency. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Australian Qualifications Framework. (2013). The AQF Second Edition January 2013.

Berge, M., & Ingerman, Å. (2017). Multiple theoretical lenses as an analytical strategy in researching group discussions. Research in science & technological education, 35(1), 42-57. DOI:

Berman, A. M., Schwartz, S. J., Kurtines, W. M., & Berman, S. L. (2001). The process of exploration in identity formation: The role of style and competence. Journal of Adolescence, 24(4), 513–528. DOI:

Bickerdike, A., O'Deasmhunaigh, C., O'Flynn, S., & O'Tuathaigh, C. (2016). Learning strategies, study habits and social networking activity of undergraduate medical students. International Journal of Medical Education, 7, 230-236. DOI:

Blackmore, J. (2020). The carelessness of entrepreneurial universities in a world risk society: A feminist reflection on the impact of Covid-19 in Australia. Higher Education Research and Development, 39(7), 1332-1336. DOI:

Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production. Columbia University Press.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. DOI:

Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods (5th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Butz, D., & Besio, K. (2009). Autoethnography. Geography Compass, 3(5), 1660–1674. DOI:

Chwialkowska, A. (2020). Maximizing cross-cultural learning from exchange study abroad programs: Transformative learning theory. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(5), 535–554. DOI:

Dalley, G. (1988). Ideologies of caring: Rethinking community and collectivism. Macmillan Education.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268. DOI:

Department of Education, Skill and Employment. (2022). International education data and research.

Dedaić, M. N., & Dale, K. (2012). Mediated collaborative positioning: The case of prisoner blogs. Discourse, Context & Media, 1(1), 20-31. DOI:

Dirkx, J. M. (2012). Self-formation and transformative learning: A response to "Calling transformative learning into question: some mutinous thoughts," by Michael Newman. Adult Education Quarterly, 62(4), 399-405. DOI:

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2011). Autoethnography: An overview. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, 273-290.

Eschenbacher, S., & Fleming, T. (2020). Transformative dimensions of lifelong learning: Mezirow, Rorty and COVID-19. International Review of Education, 66(5-6), 657–672. DOI:

Esser, F., Baader, M. S., Betz, T., & Hungerland, B. (2016). Reconceptualizing agency and childhood: New perspectives in childhood studies. Taylor and Francis. DOI:

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331–362. DOI:

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. University of California Press.

Harré, R., & Dedaić, M. (2012). Positioning theory, narratology, and pronoun analysis as discursive therapies. In A. Lock, & T. Strong (Eds.), Discursive perspectives in therapeutic practice (pp. 45–64). Oxford University Press. DOI:

Harré, R., & Slocum, N. (2003). Disputes as complex social events: On the uses of positioning theory. Common Knowledge, 9(1), 100-118. DOI:

Huang, X., & Wang, C. (2021). Pre-service teachers' professional identity transformation: A positioning theory perspective. Professional Development in Education, 1-18. DOI:

Ibrahim, S. S. (2006). From individual to collective capabilities: The capability approach as a conceptual framework for self-help. Journal of Human Development, 7(3), 397–416. DOI:

Issa, T., Isaias, P., & Kommers, P. (2016). Social networking and education global Perspectives. Springer. DOI:

Jiang, S. (2020). Diversity without integration? Racialization and spaces of exclusion in international higher education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 42(1), 32-47. DOI:

Kiley, M., & Cumming, J. (2015). Enhanced learning pathways and support for coursework master's students: Challenges and opportunities. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(1), 105-116. DOI:

Klak, T., & Martin, P. (2003). Do university-sponsored international cultural events help students to appreciate “difference”? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 445-465. DOI:

Klemenčič, M. (2017). From student engagement to student agency: Conceptual considerations of European policies on student-centered learning in higher education. Higher Education Policy, 30(1), 69-85. DOI:

Kuron, L. K. J., Lyons, S. T., Schweitzer, L., & Ng, E. S. W. (2015). Millennials’ work values: Differences across the school to work transition. Personnel Review, 44(6), 991-1009. DOI:

Larkins, C. (2019). Excursions as corporate agents: A critical realist account of children’s agency. Childhood, 26(4), 414-429. DOI:

Lee, J. J. (2020). Neo-racism and the criminalization of China. Journal of International Students, 10(4), i-vi. DOI:

Lin, Y., & Chan, P. W. K. (2021). Class origins, higher education and employment in China during the 21st century. Higher Education Quarterly, 75(4), 634–647. DOI:

Lin, Y., & Nguyen, H. (2021). International students’ perspectives on e-learning during Covid-19 in higher education in Australia: A study of an Asian student. The Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 19(4), 41-251. DOI:

Lin, Y., & Zhang, H. (2021). “I finally marginalized myself from the mainstream”: An autoethnography study of Chinese international students’ development of intercultural communicative competence. The Qualitative Report, 26(11), 3665-3682. DOI:

Marginson, S. (2014). Student self-formation in international education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 18(1), 6-22. DOI:

Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education, 32(1), 3-24. DOI:

Nada, C. I., Montgomery, C., & Araújo, H. C. (2018). ‘You went to Europe and returned different’: Transformative learning experiences of international students in Portugal. European Educational Research Journal EERJ, 17(5), 696–713. DOI:

Oswell, D. (2013). The agency of children: From family to global human rights. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

OECD. (2021). Education at a glance 2021.

Sen, A. (2000). Development as freedom. Anchor Books.

Siczek, M. (2020). International Student Agency in the Face of a Global Health Crisis. Journal of International Students, 10(4), vii–ix. DOI:

Tarrant, M., Dazeley, S., & Cottom, T. (2009). Social categorization and empathy for outgroup members. Br J Soc Psychol, 48(3), 427-446. DOI:

Thomas, A. E., Pflanzl, B., & Völkl, A. (2016). Broadening the mind: Beneficial effects of sojourn experiences and contact with visiting international students on prospective teachers’ motivation to avoid prejudiced behavior. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 50, 89-95. DOI:

Tran, L. T., & Vu, T. T. P. (2018). ‘Agency in mobility’: Towards a conceptualization of international student agency in transnational mobility. Educational Review (Birmingham), 70(2), 167-187. DOI:

Toprakkiran, S., & Gordils, J. (2021). The onset of COVID-19, common identity, and intergroup prejudice. The Journal of Social Psychology, 161(4), 435–451. DOI:

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

Whyte, D. (2002). Crossing the unknown sea: Work as a pilgrimage of identity. Riverhead Books.

Wu, X. (2020). Examining the influence of transnational discourses on Chinese international secondary school students' academic learning. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 41(4), 368-382. DOI:




How to Cite

Lin, Y., Shi, J., & Zhang, C. (2022). Working Toward Becoming Doctoral Researchers: A Collective Autoethnography of International Students in Australia. Journal of International Students, 12(S2), 68–87.