Learning to thrive
: A longitudinal mixed methods exploration of the intercultural doctoral experience

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Research aims
For intercultural doctoral students (IDSs), arriving from outside the UK means that they need to interact with and re-adjust to a variety of new contexts, resulting in multidimensional changes, namely affective, behavioural, and cognitive adjustments. This thesis explored IDSs’ experience in the UK through the lens of developmental ecology, focusing on the multidimensional process of change, how the individuals interact with their contexts, and how they develop their knowledge and identity over time.

Data collection and analysis
To guide data collection and analysis, a theoretical framework of three theories was applied. Using a longitudinal mixed methods approach, the quantitative strand included three waves of questionnaires on adaptation and well-being. IDSs in Russell Group completed the longitudinal survey (N1 = 80, N2 = 63, N3 = 51), analysed using regression and mixed effects models.
The qualitative strand collected 24 longitudinal, semi-structured interviews of eight IDSs at University of Bristol, with three interviews per participant. The interviews spanned 15 months and explored the challenges the participants faced, and the development of their coping strategies. A longitudinal approach to hybrid thematic analysis was adapted and developed in this study, and a further structural narrative analysis was used to capture changes over time in.

Main findings
This study puts forward the evidence for viewing the doctoral journey, specifically that of intercultural students, as a developmental process in which both context and the individual play an important role. Overall, the most important finding is the interactions between contexts and the developing person, demonstrated by the significant interactions in quantitative strand and by the bi-directionality in qualitative strand. There is evidence to show that while contexts influence IDSs’ experience, their previous knowledge and experience can also enrich their new contexts.
Specifically, quantitative analysis indicated the significant interaction between factors at individual and contextual levels. English language, doctoral time, their age, and their discipline of study accounted for 27% of variance in well-being. Age was the only significant predictor of adaptation, accounting for less than 8% of its variance. In terms of development over time, the effect of doctoral time on well-being significantly varied by both English language and discipline of study.
Qualitative findings further demonstrated that to support well-being as an affective dimension, (1) behaviourally, the learning process needs to recognise and incorporate the old and the new knowledge, and (2) cognitively, the identify formation process should be embedded in personal and academic communities.
Methodological and theoretical contributions
Methodologically, the development of Longitudinal hybrid thematic analysis contributed to the analysis of data from the longitudinal interviews. Equipped with the theoretical framework, the study presented further evidence for the multi-dimensional and multi-level nature of the IDS experience. At the contextual and individual levels of development, the theoretical framework contributes significantly to an in-depth understanding of the IDSs’ development during academic, socio-cultural, and psychological adaptation. Thus, this thesis informs future research that seeks to cross methodological, conceptual and interdisciplinary boundaries in their exploration of the intercultural and doctoral experience.

Keywords: Doctoral education; Doctoral well-being; Eco-developmental process; Intercultural doctoral experience; Socio-cultural adaptation; Psychological well-being; Longitudinal hybrid thematic analysis
Date of Award24 Mar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJo Rose (Supervisor) & Frances Giampapa (Supervisor)


  • Doctoral education
  • PhD well-being
  • Psychological well-being
  • Intercultural doctoral experience; Socio-cultural adaptation; Psychological well-being; Longitudinal hybrid thematic analysis
  • Socio-cultural adaptation
  • Longitudianl hybrid thematic analysis
  • eco-developmental

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