Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Reflexivity in International Contexts: Implications for U. S. Doctoral Students International Research Preparation

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Reflexivity in International Contexts: Implications for U. S. Doctoral Students International Research Preparation

Article excerpt


Higher education has become increasingly interconnected and international. As a result, higher education institutions in the United States have experienced increased student mobility, collaborative research projects, and global knowledge exchange (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Altbach & Teichler, 2001; Knight, 2015). In response, U.S. institutions have added coursework that emphasizes internationalization in both masters and doctoral education degrees (Comparative and International Education Society, n.d.; Drake, 2011), underscoring the importance of infusing international perspectives in graduate education.

As emerging researchers, doctoral students must be prepared to conduct research that considers increasing global knowledge exchange. Given the amplified internationalization of higher education, there is a need for doctoral student researchers to be trained to work within international contexts; however, limited attention has been given towards the international preparation for nascent researchers in doctoral programs (Yao & Vital, 2016). This is of particular importance because international research often includes U.S.-based researchers working with cultural groups and contexts that are very different from them. In addition, international research includes the danger of methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism is a concept in which researchers focus only on the boundaries of one's nation-state (Chernilo, 2006; Shahjahan & Kezar, 2013), leading to an imbalance of power within the research relationship. Thus, researchers must be aware of the lens and perspective they use in an attempt to understand these different cultural contexts.

In research, the consideration of a researcher's lens is often discussed as researcher reflexivity and positionality. Reflexivity is defined as "a way of emphasizing the importance of self-awareness, political/cultural consciousness, and ownership of one's perspective" (Patton, 2002, p. 64), all of which are relevant to international research. Reflexivity works in tandem with positionality, which is described as how researchers are situated. Understanding where the researcher stands "in relation to 'the other'" (Merriam et al., 2001, p. 411) is considered when questioning one's positionality during the research process. Simply said, reflexivity is an internal understanding of one's perspective, and positionality is how one is positioned in contrast to those being studied.

Although there is an abundance of literature on the importance of reflexivity and positionality (Glesne, 2011; Merriam et al., 2001; Patton, 2002), there is limited discussion on how doctoral students are trained to approach and conduct international research. Thus, we examine the following: how do U.S. doctoral students understand the role of their reflexivity in qualitative international research? This study provides insight on how U.S. doctoral students reflect on their researcher reflexivity as emerging international scholars.

This study emerged from a larger project that examined doctoral students' perceptions of their preparation for international research. As we coded participant interviews, themes related to reflexivity and positionality continuously emerged from participants' experiences. In this paper, we provide a brief overview of current literature on the importance of researcher reflexivity in international research. We then outline our methods used in this study, including our own personal reflexivity statements. We illuminate findings from the participants and conclude with a discussion and implications for practice and future research.


Reflexivity is commonly addressed in qualitative methodology as a way to reflect on one's own position. In doing so, the researcher engages in the practice of self-reflection in order to better understand how a researcher's lens affects the research project, particularly because qualitative research often includes interactions with participants. …

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