Ed.D. Student Profile: Yi-Jung Wu


GSE Ed.D. student Yi-Jung (Shelley) Wu’s research focuses on Asian-American immigrant families and the parent-child interactions during the phase of transitioning to college.  Recently published in Anthropology News, her study, entitled “Methods at Work: Chinese and Taiwanese Immigrant Family Educational Experiences” specifically touches upon the aspects of home culture, identity (re)formation, and negotiation between parents and their children. Wu’s inspiration for the study stems from the course, "Race, Ethnicity and Inequality in Education" where she was surprised to learn that many studies on Asian-American families and their experiences with the American education system treat Asian Americans as "a problem-free group." This ultimately led her to delve into the intergenerational tensions and challenges that exist during a time of transition for adolescents in these families.

The biggest challenges that Wu encountered in conducting her study was finding the right theoretical framework. She credits her advisor, Dr. Thea Abu El-Haj, professors, Dr. Beth Rubin, Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa, and Dr. Dan Battey, as well as her fellow students in helping and supporting her during the process. Her advice for prospective Ed.D. students is to network with others and learn from both students and professors in order to achieve a richer graduate learning experience.

Wu plans to pursue a career as a university professor and to continue conducting research with focus on immigrant families.  

Learn more about Wu in the question and answer segment below:

Q: What was your inspiration for this study?

A: I did a literature review explaining the academic success of Asian Americans for the course, “Race, Ethnicity and Inequality in Education” in the fall of 2009. I was surprised to see that many studies on Asian-American immigrant family and educational achievement treat Asian Americans as a problem-free group, especially in terms of parent-adolescent relationships and achievement. However, my instinct was that Asian Americans are ordinary human beings. I suspected that intergenerational tensions frequently occur in these immigrant families as well when children are at the period of adolescence—just like other racial and ethnic families in the US! In other words, making transition to college and adulthood is not only challenging for adolescents but for their parents as well—and there is no cultural difference! 

Particularly, I see Chinese and Taiwanese immigrant parents as the products of an authoritarian and exam-oriented education system in East Asia. Their American children are products of the US democratic student-centered education system. How do these immigrant parents and their American children interact with each other at the intersections of home culture, identity (re)formation and navigating the US educational opportunities, and making life decisions in transition to college? What do parents or children let go and what do they hold on? I find it interesting to explore how they “negotiate” with each other at this transitional stage.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in conducting your research?

A: “Finding and choosing the right theoretical framework to guide my study” is the most challenging part of conducting my research. I recalled the comment that my advisor, Dr. Thea Renda Abu El-Haj gave me about my dissertation proposal draft–“You need a theoretical framework…” I knew nothing about the theories Thea suggested to me. I felt that it would take me forever to understand those theories. How do I know that the one I will choose is a right one– what if I am wrong?  Most importantly, is it really going to take me forever to find a correct conceptual framework to guide my work?

This particular struggle occurred at the beginning of the 2011 fall semester. In this process of my struggling and navigating a suitable conceptual framework, I was not alone. I was lucky to have many professors– my advisor, Dr. Beth Rubin, Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa, and Dr. Dan Battey and peer students at Equity Seminar and those in Qualitative Research III to help me trudge through this uncertain time.

Q: What do you like best about the GSE’s Ed. D. program?

A:  It is the GSE’s faculty members’ understanding, caring, and support that I enjoy most.  

Being a product of an authoritarian and exam-oriented education system in East Asia– where English is used only in the classroom, I found it extremely challenging to negotiate the cultural, social, and educational boundaries in the U.S. Taking my experience of navigating the American culture of group discussions in the classroom for example, my Confucian culture taught me that I should speak only when others finish their sentences. Before that, one should just listen and wait patiently in order to show his or her courtesy. This practice severely clashed with the expectations of an American classroom, in which my attempts at courtesy were viewed as being unprepared for class since I minimally contributed to dynamic group discussions. I have since learned how to navigate these differences by realizing that including my opinion and explaining my ideas is valued in American culture. This helped me gain a broader perspective of the different cultural and social barriers that divide Chinese and American practices.

This example is just one of many about the boundaries that I have encountered and learned to cope with. I am lucky to have professors such as Dr. Tanja Sargent, Dr. James Giarelli, Dr. Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, Dr. Beth Rubin, and Dr. Sharon Ryan to walk me through this process and encourage me to dream big.

Q: Do you have any advice for prospective students who are interested in the Ed.D. program?

A:  Time spent in graduate school should be treated as an opportunity to experience all the aspects of the future professional career. My advice would be– be prepared to work hard and be active in networking. It will be a challenge to balance your work and your coursework, but your coursework needs to be a priority.  The curriculum is flexible, and the faculty members are accommodating, but ultimately you are the one who will make the doctoral experience work for you. What’s more, networking with peers and professors is just as important as doing your class work. When conducting research, no one is an island. Learning from others and helping others learn will deepen your graduate experience.

This degree is extremely challenging in many ways – it was with the support of my faculty and peers that I was able to succeed. I have learned a great deal in this program, not only in the coursework but about myself as well– I realized how and why I was shaped by my past, and know that I am prepared to create the future I want. It is a wonderful growth experience.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: My professional goal is to pursue a career as a university professor and researcher conducting research and teaching about educational achievement of youth from immigrant families; and teaching qualitative and quantitative research methods. In the long run, I wish to conduct cross-national studies (involving groups from the U.S., China, and Taiwan) focusing on the fields of educational achievement, cultural and identity issues, family educational experiences, and college application processes and admission systems. It is my hope that in the future, I can participate in and support international cooperation at an academic institutional or governmental level among the U.S., China, and Taiwan.