Set sail on a new academic journey: The Chinese international postgraduate students’ academic socialisation in UK higher education

  • Xiaoshan Chen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research investigates the academic socialisation of Chinese international postgraduate students who study in the UK for the first time. In particular, this study explores the challenges these students encounter and negotiations they engage in classroom discussions and academic writing practices in their academic socialisation process. The study also explores how existing academic and non-academic interactions, when experienced by the Chinese international students, influence their identity formation, stance, academic life, as well as how they exert agency to enact their academic self-socialisation process.

The study is underpinned by the theories of language socialisation (Duff, 2007, 2010, 2019) and community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). Guided by the paradigm of social constructivism, this thesis adopts a qualitative case study research approach. Data were collected through multiple means, including formal interviews, classroom observations, reflective interviews, and document analysis. The student participants consisted of six Chinese international students. Five lecturers were also involved for the end-of-semester two individual formal interviews. The data were analysed thematically.

There are three major findings. Firstly, the challenges faced by the Chinese international students in their academic socialisation into (and through) classroom discussions and academic writing practices appeared to be multiple and complex. Secondly, the students exerted agency and engaged in negotiations constantly as their academic socialisation progressed. The complex and agentive negotiations conducted by the students contributed to the unexpectedness and uniqueness of each students’ academic socialisation trajectory and outcome; in some situations, students showed resistance to certain practices and cultural socialisation, particularly when those were different from their prior academic socialisation experiences. Thirdly, the students interacted with human and non-human sources of socialisation as they participated in communities of practice; their lecturers, personal tutors, tutors in the institutional skills centre, and their peers served as influential human agents of socialisation. The interactions with lecturers/tutors not only provided the students with fundamental academic support but also imposed multiple identities indexing legitimacy or illegitimacy to the students, significantly facilitating or impeding their affective stances, formation of a legitimate academic identity and overall academic socialisation experience. The students received academic and socio-affective support largely through interactions with co-national peers; yet they reported unpleasant experiences in their interactions with some local students and other international students, which had a negative effect on the students’ identity formation, affective stances, and future academic plans. Based on the main findings, this study indicates that academic socialisation is not only mediated and directed by other human and non-human agents of socialisation externally, but also internally by the individual students themselves.

Overall, this study advances our understanding of international students’ academic socialisation by demonstrating its complex, dynamic and unpredictable nature. It also contributes to study abroad research and the ongoing discussion about Chinese international students. Based on empirical data, these contributions provide important implications for academic staff as well as for Chinese students planning to study abroad in the future.
Date of Award26 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorXiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen (Supervisor) & Reka Ratkaine Jablonkai (Supervisor)

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