Interview with Ulviye Isik

End of February, Ulviye Isik left the Amsterdam UMC and the research institute LEARN! to explore new pastures. For the past four and a half years, she was pursuing her PhD on "motivation and academic performance of ethnic minority medical students" under the supervision of Rashmi Kusurkar.

27-02-2020 | 16:31

Fortunately, she was able to tell us about her work, her motivation for this research, and her hopes for future directions to support minority students in academia before moving on. You can read the full interview about her PhD trajectory here.


You are wrapping up your projects because this will be your last week here at UMC. What have you worked on these past years?
In November 2019, I finalized my PhD study on the ´motivation and academic performance of ethnic minority medical students’. The broad question of my research was: what factors are influencing the motivation of ethnic minority medical students? I studied how student motivation affects their academic performance. At the time it was a pressing question as previous research showed that ethnic minority medical students but also ethnic minority students in general, underperform compared to native students. The goal of my Phd was understand why ethnic minority students underperform compared to native students.

To answer the question we conducted four different studies, starting with a systematic literature review to identify factors influencing the academic motivation of ethnic minority students. In the literature, we found that a wide range of different factors such as: individual, family-related, school-related, and social features. These were included in a second empirical study at the university medical centre, we invited all the medical students to participate in a broad survey and analyzed their autonomous and controlled motivation. Additionally, we investigated their study strategy to understand potential differences in study strategy of ethnic minority versus native students. Our findings indicated that the achieving study strategy mediated the relation between motivation and academic performance for native students, however, it did not for ethnic minority students. We implemented a third qualitative study (with focus groups and interviews)  to understand the difference and particularly the motivations and experiences of ethnic minority students and how these influence their motivation and academic performance during their education. These interviews resulted in several interesting factors where we heard many different stories of ethnic minority students. These enabled us to come up with practical solutions to support ethnic minority students in their medical education, such as the need for role models (e.g. a medical specialist) from their own ethnic minority group. We also learned how these students lack a supportive network of peers who are also studying for a medical degree and who can help them in finding effective study strategies. 

What are examples of practical implications, medical schools could implement to support minority students?
For example, we concluded that medical schools should offer students and staff competency training to create more awareness of diversity and religious backgrounds of students. This can reduce remarks about accents and miscommunication, judgments or negative feedback. Another example is that ethnic minority students would like to see support groups. These groups would help them to share their negative experiences and can give them the feeling that they are not alone. Furthermore, during their internship students would like to have more clarity about what is expected of them. An example that was named often was the miscommunication about assertiveness. Students explained that it is often a cultural habit to be quiet and listen to the (supervising) doctor or specialist. However, regularly they get bad remarks/ fails because they are apparently not assertive enough. Here, they emphasized that the student´s ethnic background needs to be taken into consideration. Students, as well as teachers, need to know about such culturally ingrained behaviour so that the teachers can inform students better about what is expected from them and teachers can provide more culturally relevant and sensitive feedback.

What was your motivation to do this research?
My main motivation was, and still is, that I also have an ethnic minority background and I know the difficulties that come along with it. The idea that we support those students with our research really motivated me to progress my research. I hope that medical schools will focus on the implementation of the practical implications of my research, this may lead to an optimal environment for ethnic minority students in which they can perform to their full potential. I will now look for new challenges but I am very happy that the research team is pushing this topic further. I will definitely take the topic of inclusion and diversity with me and hopefully continue working on it in other ways.

You were mentioning that you are also from an ethnic minority background. Looking back at your education: Did you have any class or teacher who inspired you? 
There is not one teacher that stands out specifically. However, I think teachers are really important in this regard. If you have a teacher who understands you and believes in you, that can help a lot. But also, the support of your friends and peers with whom you can always share your experiences helped me to motivate myself and to keep going.

When you think back to the moment when you started the PhD, were there other professional options you could have imagined for yourself instead of a PhD? 
No, not really. I was studying health sciences and therefore it was somehow very logical to go in the field of science and pursue a PhD, instead of doing something else. But during my PhD, I was a tutor for Bachelor medical students, and I coordinated a course for Master medical students focusing on teaching skills. Having those experiences, I realized that I really like guiding students, mentoring students, and to see them flourish. Therefore, I am very happy that I have had the opportunity to combine research with education. So, I might have pursued a career in education.

Link to her full PhD trajectory.