After multiple rewrites, responding to reviewers’ comments and the final copyediting, you have reached the much anticipated finish-line, a published academic article. Feeling both relieved that this task is completed and proud of your accomplishment, you go about adding your article to your bibliography, perhaps sending it around to a few colleagues, and then…
Well, then it’s done and dusted, right?
But this doesn’t have to be the end of the road; there are various post-publication possibilities for early-career researchers to explore. In this blog post, we share how we transferred the research findings from our academic journal article on dropout experiences of international doctoral students (IDSs) to concrete recommendations for practitioners who work with IDSs and who can have a real impact on their PhD journey.
Describing the concrete steps we took to translate our academic research project into one that reached relevant practitioner audiences, we hope to inspire other higher education early-career researchers to consider how their expertise can be useful to those who have the power to improve the way we do higher education.
From passion to impact
We began studying the dropout experiences of IDSs in 2016, a couple of years into our own PhDs. This topic sparked our scholarly interest as higher education researchers but also hit close to home. At the time, we were both IDSs ourselves and, having met a lot of other IDSs, we became increasingly aware of the numerous challenges involved in pursuing a doctorate abroad.
As our study progressed, we interviewed eleven IDSs about their dropout experiences. Listening to their stories, it became clear that the decision to discontinue their PhD was often the product of students being disempowered. Specifically, we observed how IDSs frequently felt under-supported—academically, financially and socially—by their supervisors, colleagues and institutions.
Although our journal article included the common “recommendations” section at the end, in which we reflected on how to overcome these identified support gaps, we were aware that our message might not reach all relevant audiences as a publication in an academic journal. We began to ponder what more we could do to use our research to impact practice and create a more inclusive doctoral experience for international students.
Finding the right tone
In 2019, after having already been invited to prepare a short summary of our research on a blog intended for those involved in PhD supervision, we were delighted when we were approached by the EAIE—European Association for International Education—with an exciting opportunity. They asked us to transfer our research findings into concrete steps for practitioners working with IDSs, for their series called “Pathways to Practice”. As a publication series dedicated to providing practical recommendations, it was the ideal outlet for us to get our message across to an audience who could make a real difference.
Taking this opportunity, however, required us to shift gears, trading in our academic perspectives for that of practitioners. This meant we had to some extent go back to the drawing board. The foundation of our academic paper was built on identifying research gaps, demonstrating methodological rigour and providing solid argumentation, all the while using academic jargon to convince our peers that our research was worthy of publication in an academic journal. These elements are essential for conducting and publishing academic research, however, they take a backseat in practice.
To exchange our academic approach for one that would be more helpful and approachable for practitioners, we took several steps:
- First, we embarked on another, practice-geared literature review, scouting both academic and practitioner work, to survey existing up-to-date best practices for supporting IDSs.
- We also connected with practitioners working in the field, via listservs, emails and webinars, to gain insights into their hands-on perspectives and to gauge what challenges and solutions were relevant for our target audience.
- Once we began drafting our publication, this rethinking process also included changing how we structured our text and the language we used. We had to be careful not to get bogged down with academic jargon and instead use precise and accessible language.
- Lastly, although our writing style changed, we made sure that we avoided oversimplifying the issues at stake and maintained a perspective informed by academic research.
Putting your expertise to good use
As early-career researchers, especially if we have yet to receive a PhD degree, we might feel that we don’t have anything important to say to decision-makers. Or, even if we feel we do, we might not always find a way to convey our message to the relevant audiences outside of our home academic community. Think again: you have been working on your research topic for several years, you know the literature in the field and—even if you don’t know everything—you have the skills to quickly grasp the additional information you might need.
So if your research speaks to a higher education problem that you think needs resolving, explore the practitioner-oriented associations who work in your area of interest, find blogs that bring together the right audiences and engage with practitioner communities via listservs, seminars and so on. Once you do, it is in our experience quite likely these communities will recognize that you have something important to say and you might get actively involved in contributing to their efforts.
Transferring our research findings to a format useful for practitioners was both a fruitful learning experience and it also rekindled our passion for our topic. The satisfaction of getting that academic article finally published—especially if it’s one of the first ones—is priceless. But knowing that your research is making a positive impact beyond your academic community is also invaluable.
Melissa Laufer is a senior researcher in the research programme “Knowledge & Society” at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society. She is interested in investigating change processes at universities.
Meta Gorup is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent at Ghent University in Belgium. Her research explores topics in research management and doctoral education through the lens of university members’ identities and university cultures.