How Indigenous Doctoral Students Succeed

Categories: Focus Series, Instruction, MentorSpace, Supervising and Teaching Research Skills and Roles

Tags: , , ,

Read original posts, interviews with authors and experts, and open access resources about Indigenous and Intercultural Researchers. Find the whole series here.

Bridging Academic
and Indigenous Cultures
in a Ph.D. Program

The experience of doctoral supervision is inherently intercultural. In a post and webinar from our series on mentoring, Dr. Nicola Pallit described the critical process of enculturation, that is, guiding the student into the  culture of academia,  research, and discipline. How is this experience different when the student comes from an Indigenous community?

With online learning, students can participate in Western universities without leaving home. Students from remote parts of the world have new opportunities to become researchers and leaders in their communities. They can contribute in unique ways by using their insider status, access, and trust to conduct inquiries in ways outsiders can rarely accomplish.

How can doctoral supervisors help make doctoral studies a positive and empowering experience? How can Indigenous Ph.D. students bring their own cultural knowledge into their doctoral work? I posed these questions to Dr. Lynn Wilson and  her indigenous mentee, Casuallen Atuatai.  Watch both of these interviews to see examples of a successful doctoral supervisor-student relationship and recommendations you can use when working with Indigenous, native, or First Nations students.

Casuallen Atuatasi, Doctoral Candidate, Walden University

Casuallen Atuatasi has deep ties with her community and culture in American Samoa. Under the complicated chiefly system of American Samoa, Fa’amatai, Casuallen’s father is a matai, or chief, which makes him not only the head of his family and their land holdings, but a primary spokesperson and community leader. He is also the Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness for the only institution of higher education on the island, American Samoa Community College. This relationship gives Casuallen a respected platform from which to develop her own voice and power as she is directly in line as a leader under the Fa’amatai system of traditional law. 

Dr. Lynn Wilson, Doctoral Supervisor, Walden University

Dr. Lynn Wilson is a doctoral mentor in Walden University’s School of Public Policy and Administration. Lynn is the founder and executive director of the NGO, SeaTrust Institute. In this interview, she discussed her experiences with global students, and ways she integrates her doctoral supervision and NGO work.

Tips for Doctoral Supervisors from Dr. Wilson

In reflecting upon this month of Methodspace posts, webinars and interviews on indigenous research methods, an addition I would like to offer is to consider the importance of synchronous interactions between mentors and mentees in an online environment. Ideally, these synchronous sessions will be visual, and in this age of cell phones a video call is something almost anyone can accomplish at low or no additional cost.

Many indigenous people are also more attuned to communication clues from visual communication than their western counterparts and will respond positively in ways that increase their understanding as well as their comfort and trust when they can see their mentor. While videoconferencing is not a substitute for face- to- face interaction, it is a significant step towards building relationships and honoring cultural norms.

During the conversations on indigenous research, the nature of many indigenous cultures as storytelling cultures with ontologies and epistemologies that may find dissonance within the traditional Academy was emphasized. Synchronous activities take time, but making the time as a mentor for calls and/or video conferencing with indigenous students is part of setting our intentions as mentors to be open to other ways of knowing and trust building. It is also a wonderful way to learn about the lives and cultures of our indigenous students, which has proven to be a sometimes surprisingly rich area of  learning for me as well as for my students.

Articles about doctoral supervision:

Lee, Anne (2007) Developing effective supervisors: Concepts of research supervision South African Journal of Higher Education, 21 (4). pp. 680-693.

Wilson, D. (2017). Supervision of Indigenous research students: considerations for cross-cultural supervisors. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 13(4), 256–265.


Relevant MethodSpace Posts

Leave a Reply