Laboratory Experiences of Science and Engineering Graduate Students at Three Research-Oriented Universities in Taiwan

By Lin, Yii-Nii | College Student Journal, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Laboratory Experiences of Science and Engineering Graduate Students at Three Research-Oriented Universities in Taiwan


Lin, Yii-Nii, College Student Journal


The purpose of this study was to describe the laboratory experiences of science/engineering graduate students from three research-oriented universities in northern Taiwan. This study adopted a qualitative method of phenomenology utilizing indepth interviews for data collection. The ages of the participants ranged from 21 to 30 with an average age of 24.35. The two themes that emerged from data analysis included the laboratory climate and the growth and development of the graduate students.

Key word: science/engineering graduate student, laboratory experience

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The number of graduate schools in Taiwan has increased from five hundred to more than three thousand, and the number of graduate students has increased from forty thousand to over two hundred thousand in the last two decades (Ministry of Education, 2010). Enormous changes in society, the culture, and the educational environment have drastically changed the life style, values, interpersonal relationships, learning attitudes, and career development of graduate students. Taiwanese graduate students are now under more stress both in school and in their future careers, and therefore, struggle with more side effects of stress.

Forty-five percent of all graduate students in Taiwan are in the fields of science and engineering (Ministry of Education, 2010). Graduate students in science/engineering suffer from a high level of stress (Liu, 2007), especially in the role expectations of being a graduate student (Lin, 2005). Particularly, graduate students are under the stress of intense academic competition at research-oriented universities. As a result, these students are more likely to suffer negative effects in their social lives, interpersonal interactions, and psychosocial development. Forty percent of science/engineering graduate students self-evaluate as being in poor health during the semester (Lin, 2005). Moreover, science/engineering students spend much time in labs on their research projects, suffering from fatigue and experiencing fierce competition, which may trigger physical and psychological discomfort or stress symptoms. Minor symptoms include poor academic performance and inefficient experimental results. Severe symptoms consist of insomnia, anxiety, depression, frustration, and sometimes even psychological disorders, violent actions, self-inflicted injuries, or suicide.

But even under a high degree of stress, there are still some graduate students who perform well and maintain a good quality of life throughout graduate school. Therefore, these students' experiences of overcoming pressure and striving for growth are worth further research. The literature related to science/engineering Taiwanese graduate students is lacking. Existing studies in Taiwan employed surveys and statistics to investigate the sources of stress, difficulties, adaptations, or support of graduate students (Aiou, 2005; Chang, 2005; Hsu, 2003; Huang, 2006). These studies lack a holistic, systematic, and comprehensive portrayal of students' lives over their graduate career. Because science/engineering majors spend long hours working in laboratories and are easily isolated from the outside world, this study interviews current graduate students studying science/engineering at three research-oriented universities to describe their laboratory experiences.

Literature Review of Graduate Students

Scrutinizing research in Taiwan, academic stress had been reported to be the top stressor among graduate students (Aiou, 2005; Huang, 2006). Half of all graduate students rated themselves as being in poor health and self-evaluated anxiety as their most severe psychological problem (Huang, 2006). Lee (2005) investigated 2,144 new graduate students and discovered that the prevalence of tiredness among male students was 45.8% and among female students was 48.9%. Taiwanese graduate students viewed friends as the most important sources of support (Hsu, 2003) and received social support mainly from classmates/friends, family members, and teachers (Chang, 2005). …

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