Doctoral candidates’ dual role as student and expert scholarly writer: An activity theory perspective

Jun Lei, Guangwei Hu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The ever-intensifying globalization and marketization of higher education are placing increased pressure on doctoral students to publish during candidature. This paper reports a study of Chinese nursing doctoral students’ endeavors to publish in English. Drawing on Activity Theory, the study employed a multiple-case study design and collected multiple types of data from six doctoral students and one supervisor from a major research-intensive university in mainland China. Thematic and activity systems analyses of the data revealed a tension concerning the students’ dual role as student and expert scholarly writer. The tension was manifested in the students’ developing, but still limited grasp and use of some conceptual tools needed to publish their work. The analyses also showed that the students dealt with this tension by relying on mediating resources, such as cultural artifacts and social others that facilitated not only their publishing efforts, but also their socialization into the academic culture and community. These findings point to a deep-seated structural tension in doctoral education that, while constraining doctoral students’ scholarly publishing endeavors, could also enable them to acquire the skills of the trade to publish and to be socialized into their disciplinary communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-74
Number of pages13
JournalEnglish for Specific Purposes
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Academic writing
  • Activity theory
  • Doctoral student
  • Dual role
  • Scholarly publishing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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