The Experience of Saudi Arabian Women Undertaking Doctoral Research at Universities in the UK

  • Aeshah Jawkhab

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Women undertaking doctoral research face challenges that are specific to their gender and culture, and there has been limited research carried out on their experiences, as most previous studies have focused on male experiences. This thesis investigates these issues using three different studies. The first is an auto-ethnography that traces and reflects on my personal experiences from the time I first considered coming to the UK on a scholarship from the Saudi Arabian Government and describes how I encountered several particular challenges in my attempts at adapting to a new culture. In the second study, 15 Saudi postgraduate women were interviewed, and their experiences reflected my own. The key themes identified were managing family and employers, adapting to life in the UK, Family life across cultures, being an international PhD student and the value of a PhD from a UK university, on possessing a PhD from a UK university. Challenges related to these themes had an impact on the psychological well-being of these Saudi women. However, there were many perceived benefits to the time spent in the UK. For the third study 247 Saudi and UK women doctoral students responded to a survey developed for this thesis, with five dimensions, specifically risking family connectedness, benefits of partner connectedness, supervisor connectedness, academic support, and autonomy and competence. Analysis of data from this questionnaire revealed that there were differences between the Saudi and UK students in their relationship with partners/husbands, supervisor support, academic satisfaction, need for autonomy, competence and relatedness, well-being and self-esteem. Research findings highlighted a significant difference between the Saudi and UK women in risking their family connectedness. Saudi women comparatively faced more challenges than the UK women. In the research findings, Saudi women tend to perceive benefits of partner connectedness at a higher level than that of UK women. While the UK students had a higher score in satisfaction, autonomy and relatedness need than Saudi women, no difference between the two groups was found in well- being and self-esteem, competence, supervisor connectedness, and academic and community connectedness. This research highlights the lack of preparedness of the Saudi women before taking up their PhD studies in the UK and recommends that previous students are available to provide advice and guidance to those considering a scholarship so they can prepare properly. It also suggests that an Arabic specialist is appointed by hosting universities, who is outside of the supervisory team provide mentoring and social support for Saudi women on a PhD programme. Therefore, regarding the research findings and arguments procured during this research study, it is determined that logical self-determination theory applies to the challenges faced by the doctoral student. Additionally, the formulation and implementation of stated strategies could be instrumental in helping the students understand the challenges of the new culture.
Date of Award23 Apr 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorKarl Nunkoosing (Supervisor), Daphne Kaklamanou (Supervisor) & Sherria Hoskins (Supervisor)

Cite this