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Exploring Postgraduate students’ challenges and strategy use while writing a master’s thesis in an English-medium University in Kazakhstan


With the growth of English medium instruction (EMI) on a global level, the number of multilingual students writing their master’s theses in English is increasing. However, research on students’ experiences of writing them in English in non-English speaking contexts is scarce. This paper reports on the challenges and strategic learning efforts of eight Kazakhstani students while working on their master’s thesis projects in a Kazakhstani EMI university. The qualitative data collected from a written narrative and three subsequent semi-structured interviews revealed that almost all the participants had a clear preference for a directive supervision style, whereby supervisors give stage-by-stage guidance. The result was a clash of expectations, miscommunication and confusion between supervisors and supervisees in some cases, especially since most supervisors come from English-speaking countries. Two participants, however, favoured a laissez-faire supervisory style where the supervisor orchestrated their supervisees’ learning efforts implicitly by giving them room to work independently. All participants also articulated certain effective strategies to confront the diverse challenges associated with constructing a new identity for themselves as researchers, time management, and ‘imposter syndrome’. From this qualitative study, practical recommendations for developing the effectiveness (quality) of master’s thesis supervision in EMI universities are made.

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This project is supported by the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education [ 347/07122020 (Faculty Grant)].

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Correspondence to Anas Hajar.

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Appendix 1

Prompts for Initial Essay.

Write an essay that covers the following points:

(1) Could you please write general information about your background (e.g. your parents’ job, the number of your brothers and sisters, your city/village, etc.)?

(2) How long have you been learning English?

(3) What about your expectations of your master’s supervisor?

(4) Which kind of support do you need most while writing a thesis?

(5) Did you choose your supervisor?

(6) When and how did you write your research proposal?

(7) What are your current learning goals? What kind of activities or steps do you intend to use to achieve your goals?

Appendix 2

Indicative interview protocol

(1) How did you choose your research topic?

(2) Why did you use a specific methodology in your study?

(3) Which kind of challenges did you face while writing your thesis?

(4) How did you deal with these challenges?

(5) Do you feel that you did well on your thesis writing? Why?

(6) How was your relationship with your dissertation supervisor?

(7) Were you satisfied with the feedback you received from your supervisor? Why?

(8) What were your learning goals while writing your master’s thesis?

(9) Any person that either enhanced or deterred your learning goals?

(10) What do you think about your own identity as a researcher and as an academic?

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Hajar, A., Mhamed, A.A.S. Exploring Postgraduate students’ challenges and strategy use while writing a master’s thesis in an English-medium University in Kazakhstan. Tert Educ Manag (2021).

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  • Master’s theses
  • Challenges
  • learning strategies
  • Kazakhstani students
  • Qualitative inquiry