The Graduate Student Experience at a Research-Oriented University in Taiwan

By Lin, Yii-Nii | Education, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

The Graduate Student Experience at a Research-Oriented University in Taiwan


Lin, Yii-Nii, Education


In the past 15 years, the number of graduate schools in Taiwan has increased by over 2,000, and the number of graduate students has skyrocketed from 40,000 to more than 200,000 (Ministry of Education, 2012). Taiwanese culture places high value on academic performance and the earning of higher degrees (Chang & Lin, 2003; Hsu & Chen, 2008). Competition among students hoping to enroll in graduate programs has become increasingly intense in recent years.

Despite these developments, research about graduate student life is scarce. Existing research has shown that half of the graduate students in the samples were in poor health near the end of the semester (Hsu, 2003). In one study, approximately 40% of graduate students in Taiwan self-evaluated themselves as being in poor health and rated anxiety as their severest psychological problem (Huang, 2005). In spite of stressors, some students identify themselves as performing well in both academic study and personal life. Thus, the question arises; How do graduate students cope with stress in their journey through graduate school and simultaneously meet high academic standards? An exploration of these successful students' life experiences could reveal how they manage graduate-student careers and continue to live well. This paper describes the characteristics and captures the components of these life experiences, providing a comprehensive picture of satisfied, successful graduate students in Taiwan.

Graduate Students in the Western World

It is widely known that, for those who attend, graduate school presents many difficulties. Most graduate students are under pressure to research, teach, publish, job-hunt, and fulfill professors' expectations (Toews, Lockyer, Dobson, & Brownwell, 1993). As a result, they are inclined be stressed in terms of time management and the rigors of study and research (Peters, 1997), increasing their risk of sulfering from physical and psychological problems (Calicchia & Graham, 2006). Thus, approximately half of all graduate students report that they are suffering from emotional problems (Hyun, Quinn, Madon, & Lustig, 2006). Because graduate students highly emphasize learning and academic performance, their overall sense of self-worth tends to be derived from their academic success or failure (Crocker, Sommers, & Luhtanen, 2002). Those who achieve their academic goals tend to have high self-esteem and high self-confidence, and to value themselves highly (Longfield, Romas & Irwin, 2006).

Research has shown that well-chosen social connections and professional friendships can help to alleviate the effects of graduate student stress. Graduate students benefit from participation in departmental organizations, which can translate into increased social interaction with peers and faculty members, peer mentoring from more advanced students, and professional development opportunities, such as seminars on relevant topics (Gardner, 2005). After enrolling in graduate schools, students gradually develop the roles of graduate student and future professional (Golde, 1998). They go through a process of socialization and learn to adopt the values, skills, attitudes, norms, and knowledge needed for membership in a given group, or organization, as highlighted by Tierney (1999).

Graduate students can also reduce stress, improve academic performance, and increase social support if they are able to employ coping strategies (Nelson, Dell'Oliver, Koch, & Buckler, 2001). Doctoral students with strong academic performance demonstrate less stress, greater social support, and more positive coping methods than do those whose academic accomplishments are not as strong (Nelson et al., 2001). Kelly (2005) reported that predictors in the psychological adjustment of graduate students include the need for self-evaluation, the type and amount of social support, and the effectiveness of coping skills. Zhao et al. (2005) found that a graduate student's personality type, social support, life events, and coping skills are factors that predict the quality of their lives. …

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