Research Career Intentions Among Non-Native English-Speaking Graduate and Postdoctoral Trainees in STEM—Results from Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies

  •  Hwa Young Lee    
  •  Shine Chang    
  •  Cheryl B. Anderson    
  •  Erin K. Dahlstrom    
  •  Carrie Cameron    


International graduate trainees, many of whom are non-native English-speaking (L2) trainees, comprise more than half of graduate-level trainees in STEM, but little is known regarding factors that influence their career intentions, especially those that foster their growth as scientists to achieve their full potential in research. Thus, the purpose of our studies was to examine the relationship between L2 status and contextual factors that help shape the learning experiences and plans for research-focused careers. Study 1 collected cross-sectional survey data from doctoral and postdoctoral trainees (N=510) from research institutes in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. We examined which factors were associated with research career intentions using multiple linear regression analysis. Study 2 collected longitudinal data from doctoral and postdoctoral trainees (N=185) from 71 institutions in 33 states in the U.S. Repeated measures of career intentions were evaluated using mixed-effect modeling, and cross-tabulation analysis evaluated job-seeking behaviors by language status. Results showed that L2 trainees had stronger intentions to pursue research careers than did native English-speaking trainees (L1), controlling for other variables. Mentoring, trainee self-efficacy, and the perception of working more than mentors expected influenced each career intention differently. In Study 2, career intentions did not change over time for L2 or L1 trainees, but L2s preferred working in higher education or research institutes more than L1s. L2s, however, were more likely to be in early stages of seeking jobs compared to L1s. These findings provide implications for research mentors, advisors, and academic administrators in facilitating L2 career advancement and success.

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