COVID-19 disruption and identity: A reflection and autoethnography of a Beijing based Ph.D. scholar

Ms Stephanie Hollings1

1Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

The importance of identity and identity creation during the Ph.D. process has been well-noted, as throughout this process, numerous identities are shifting and emerging, and thus there is always the potential for disruption. This paper utilizes autoethnography and interactive interviews to look at the disruption and identity shifting caused by COVID-19, employing bi-weekly reflections from the author from March to June and monthly interactive interviews with four international Ph.D. students from the same program in China, three of which had returned to their home country and one which had remained in China. Throughout these months of investigation, many important themes were brought up, from distractions, confusion, and loss of motivation, to most prominently social and academic isolation. At the heart of these matters is shifting identities based on changing priorities, distance from the institution, supervisors, classmates, and our thesis itself, and most importantly the changing policies of our university, culminating in often a detachment from our scholarly identity in favor of other identities. The distinct implications of COVID-19, on transnational students’ identity, fell in tandem with the changing ways the student’s saw their lives and how they interpreted the university seeing them, highlighting the importance of university policy and location in Ph.D. identity creation. Reflected within this work, is the uniqueness of this unparalleled situation in today’s internationalized universities, presenting Ph.D. scholars with a distinctive opportunity to reflect on their changing identity and how COVID-19 is both impacting and disrupting that journey.

Keywords: PhD, COVID-19, autoethnography, interactive interviews, identity


Stephanie is currently a third-year Ph.D. student at Beijing Normal University studying Educational Leadership and Policy/Comparative Education. She has a master’s in international studies from Newcastle University (UK) and a bachelors in Anthropology from Arizona State University (USA). Her main research interests include international schools, global competence, global citizenship, international education, and the Belt and Road Initiative.

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