Skip menu

University spaces: Shaping identity and belonging

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 2:00pm – 2:30pm parallel session



Room 7 – 301-G053 Med Chem



Dr Lucila Carvalho
Massey University, New Zealand

Associate Professor Mandia Mentis
Massey University, New Zealand 

Associate Professor Alison Kearney
Massey University, New Zealand



Doctoral studies entail challenging, long and solitary times, as candidates progress towards becoming a scholar or a researcher, and in so doing, take on a new identity as experts in a field (Barnacle & Mewburn, 2010). Many university initiatives are specially crafted to support this process, for example, offering dedicated spaces for study, access to technologies and software, library and databases, specialist research workshops, scholarships, and others. Learning opportunities also emerge in less formal spaces as students encounter, gather and connect with other students and academics in on-campus cafes, staff room, and corridors. Similarly, many digital spaces provide formal (e.g. university’s LMS, virtual meeting spaces), and informal (e.g. Facebook groups, Instagram, Twitter) support.

Our research explored doctoral students’ experiences of places for learning, identity, and their sense of belonging to the university community (Bayne et al, 2014; Carvalho et al, 2018; Edwards & Usher, 2008, Phelps, 2016). Participants included doctoral candidates who regularly attend the campus spaces and those completing their degree as distance students. Eight interviews were conducted. Narrative inquiry (Clandinin, 2013) supported our analysis, as we drew on participants’ voices to identify learning narratives that reflected students’ identity and experiences of belonging. Research findings show that as these students personalize and make spaces their own; not only do they transform a ‘space’ into their ‘place for learning’, but they also create places that reflect and are shaped by their experiences of inclusion and belonging, as members of the university community and a field of studies.

The research focused on understanding doctoral students’ connections to others and to spaces, and the challenges and potential opportunities that may support students to feel that they belong to the university community, as students develop their identities as experts in a field. Our paper connects well to HERDSA general conference theme – Next Generation, Higher Education: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities – within the specialist sub-themes of “students learning” and “students places and spaces” as it focuses on the challenges and potential opportunities to support doctoral student’s feelings of belonging and making learning spaces their own.



Barnacle, R., & Mewburn, I. (2010). Learning networks and the journey of ‘becoming doctor’. Studies in Higher Education, 35(4), 433-444.
Bayne, S., Gallagher, M., & Lamb, J. (2014). Being “at” university: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education, 67(5), 569-583.
Carvalho, L., Garduño Freeman, C., Kearney, A., Mentis, M., & Martinez-Maldonado, R. (2018). Spaces of inclusion and belonging: The learning imaginaries of doctoral students in a multi-campus and distance university. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 34(6), 41-52.
Clandinin, J. (2013). Engaging in narrative enquiry. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Edwards, R., & Usher, R. (2008). Globalisation & pedagogy. Space, place and identity. London: Routledge.
Phelps, J. (2016). International doctoral students’ navigations of identity and belonging in a globalizing university. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 111-14.


Presentation topic

Students – Places and Spaces

Print Friendly, PDF & Email