Professional career navigation of East Asian international faculty: constraints, enablements, and agency

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University of Alabama Libraries

American higher education has employed an increasing number of international faculty over the past several decades to diversify its campus culture, foster its scientific development, and maintain its leadership academic position throughout the world. East Asian faculty occupy a special and critical niche within the international faculty group. In spite of Asian faculty’s increasing presence in the American academy, research on their career experiences or stories has been scant. This qualitative study, rooted in multiple theoretical foundations, investigates the lived professional experiences of 12 East Asian international faculty at a large public research university in the southeast of the United States. Specifically, this study explores the reasons for their decisions to stay in America to pursue an academic career instead of returning to their home countries, the challenges they encounter, the support they receive, and the ways they navigate their paths to career success through enacting agency. Analysis of data from in-depth interviews, observations, and documents indicates that East Asian faculty go through a complex and unique professional career development process due to English language barriers, cultural differences, and Asian racial identity. Institutional culture, conditions, and policies also facilitate or hinder their career development. In such a context, East Asian faculty exercise their agency to take charge of their career trajectories and achieve success. Several techniques are utilized to ensure the trustworthiness of this study. Based on the findings, recommendations are provided for researchers, institutional administrators and policy makers, international and U.S.-born faculty members, and students. This study intends to empower this historically underrepresented group in both American higher education and research, promote mutual understanding, appreciation, and tolerance, and contribute to the institution’s further development.

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