Advice for International Students Who Want to Pursue a PhD in Nursing


international students with flag overlay.

Attending an international school in India throughout my elementary, middle and high school education and being an international student at the University at Buffalo has shaped who I am as a person, a researcher and a compassionate nurse. As a first year Post BS to PhD student in nursing, I am still growing in ways I could have not predicted when I first arrived here. 

Focus on improving your language skills

Language is a huge barrier for most international students who want to pursue a PhD. There are so many great ideas in that intricate brain of yours, yet addressing them in the form of a second language may be challenging. I know. But also know that’s ok because every day you will see yourself improving – whether in English or terminologies used in your research – as you invest more time, energy and heart.

Be mindful that writing is a critical part in any PhD program, but that does not mean you have to be perfect. The great thing about my experience in the nursing graduate program is that the coursework prepares me to be a better writer every day.

I cannot stress enough how important reading is not only for the program, but also for your future and life in general. In the past few months, by reading hundreds of academic journals and articles, I have started to recognize the joy of reading in English. This does not mean you should give up your love of reading in your language. Reading in general has a positive impact on life.  

Be confident! Do not be afraid to share your perspective

Speak up, raise your hand, voice your opinion, be the first to initiate a conversation – you will see there is no harm in doing so, especially in an American educational community.

Is a fear of language, accent or use of incorrect grammar an obstacle for speaking up? My advice is to be confident – the only way you will overcome this is by speaking aloud.  

Improve your understanding of statistics

When I hear the word “statistics,” I used to frown or sigh. But I have really trained myself to change this bad habit. The best tip I can give to any incoming PhD nursing student is to try to understand the meaning of statistical representation in one of your favorite articles or journals, even if it is in your language. This will be a first step to success in statistics. 

Get involved with the wider community of nurse scientists and other researchers

Your involvement in your nursing school, university, research society and community matters. Familiarize yourself with not only resources in your department, but also with what the university or community can offer you. You will be surprised how many great ideas you will have by getting involved. 

Cherish and explore every opportunity

Many people from around the world come to UB to achieve academic excellence, and in the process, they bloom in all aspects of who they are. The result is the wonderful combination of unique individuals that make up the UB community. Wherever you pursue your doctorate in nursing, you will find that there are so many opportunities related to your research and others’ research – you may even discover opportunities in other fields, like epidemiology or medicine.

I strongly recommend you pursue each appropriate opportunity and cherish it, especially if you are a first year PhD student – but be mindful of your own limits and learn to say no so that you don’t overextend yourself. 

Embrace your passion and keep a positive attitude

Last but not the least, have a positive outlook and attitude. When growing up, my father used to tell me, “If you can’t avoid it, you might as well try and enjoy it.” Pursuing a PhD is a path you choose, though you may encounter some unavoidable obstacles along the way. I am sure you decided to pursue a PhD in nursing because you can see the bigger picture of health care that is accessible through nursing research. Kudos to you for your passion. Now, embrace your passion and walk the path of your PhD program with strong faith and a positive attitude. This will be the greatest weapon and shield for success on your journey.  

"The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” – Helen Keller


I am a nursing student from Rutgers. That is very encouraging and helpful. Thank you! I will start to speak up!

-Weiming Wang