Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

Practical tips

The Equality Challenge Unit in the UK has made some suggestions for how we can be sensitised to the needs of international colleagues. The following areas could be included in training for internationalisation.

1. Develop active listening skills

Some researchers may be reluctant to talk about personal issues, to acknowledge that they have problems, or need help to focus on what their issue may be. You’ll need to use your skills to provide a supportive environment in which they feel comfortable. For some specifice examples of active listening, visit the University of Colorado’s website, and take a look at PsychCentral for 13 Steps to Better Active Listening Skills.

2. Improve your understanding of diversity

The broader your knowledge of the issues that might affect your researchers, the more chance they will feel comfortable talking to you and confident that you understand what they are saying. This can be important if they are feeling isolated (more likely among international researchers), those dealing with mental health problems, or those who feel outside the majority culture at the institution. Your ability to connect with them, rather than being seen as someone else who doesn’t understand, could be critical to their ability to make progress.

3. Be aware of stereotypes

An understanding of the issues that affect particular groups of researchers can be useful in helping you provide appropriate support, but it is important not to assume that every individual in that group will have the same experience.

4. Cultivate emotional attachment

While it’s important to build rapport with your researchers, you also need to avoid becoming too closely involved with their problems to the point where you assume responsibility for resolving the issue. This can be particularly difficult when the empathy between you is strong (perhaps their experience is similar to one you had; conversely, the problem might be completely beyond your experience and you have invested significant time and energy in empathising with them.

5. Consider being a role model

If you belong to a minority group in your institution and are comfortable sharing your experiences, you might like to consider becoming a role model. The visible presence of people from minority groups who have succeeded within academia can encourage and provide reassurance for researchers who are feeling marginalised or isolated.

Adapted from material published by the Equality Challenge Unit.