“I am working 24/7, but I can't translate that to you”: The barriers, strategies, and needed supports reported by chemistry trainees from English-as-additional language backgrounds

13 October 2022, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Having a shared language such as English facilitates globalization of science but it can also limit science by poses barriers for those who have learned English-as-an-additional language (Eng+). There is currently no research focused on the experi-ences of Eng+ graduate students and postdoctoral researchers (“trainees”) in chemistry and related sciences, despite the grow-ing prominence of Eng+ trainees and ongoing calls for improving equity and inclusion in the sciences. Without research focused on Eng+ trainees, we risk losing out on a diversity of perspectives and expertise that might otherwise strengthen scientific progress. This study represents a first step in developing and evaluating strategies that effectively support Eng+ chemistry trainees by investigating their experiences with learning, communicating, and doing chemistry in English. This research was guided by three research questions: (1) What are Eng+ chemistry graduate students’ and post-doctoral research-ers’ (i.e., trainees) language experiences before entering English-dominant research programs? (2) What language barriers have trainees faced in learning, communicating, and doing chemistry? and (3) What strategies and supports have been helpful or needed? To investigate these RQs, we conducted semi-structured focus groups and interviews with 18 Eng+ chemistry graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, followed by qualitative analysis to identify key themes. We found that trainees had diverse language experiences before entering English-dominant research programs and faced challenges working in an English research environment. Trainees described research impacts that included avoiding interactions with colleagues, exacerbated feelings of imposter syndrome, needing extra time to learn or communicate, and not being able to fully express their knowledge. They expressed an ongoing desire to learn English and described their various independent strategies, demonstrating resilience and growth mindset to navigate challenges. All participants believed that research supervisors and institutions needed to play a larger role in supporting Eng+ trainees, such as empathetic supervisors who offer personal and professional support, and institutional supports that provide chemistry-specific knowledge-building and networking opportunities. Based on the findings, we recommend approaches that supervisors and institutions can enact that may improve linguistic equity in the chemical sciences.


Chemistry education research
equity and inclusion in chemistry
highly-qualified personnel
graduate student education
English as an additional language
international students in chemistry

Supplementary materials

Supporting information
Qualitative codebook, supplemental text, sociodemographic information, interview/focus group protocol, pre- and post-session questionnaires


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