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A methodological story, or how I planned to create a (metaphorical) chest of drawers and ended up with a bedside table

Author - Susan O'Shaughnessy


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My position as a lecturer in German came about at a time when German had been introduced onto almost all engineering programmes in my college to meet the demand of students who often went abroad during their summer holidays to earn money for their studies and to gain practical experience linked to their discipline. In this era before the Celtic tiger, many engineering graduates also were expected to emigrate to find work. Little over a decade later, however, German was suddenly removed from engineering programmes, leaving me without students or a timetable and with a sense of insecurity about my future career and professional identity. As a permanent member of staff with the support of the teachers’ union (TUI), I did not need to fear unemployment, unlike my part-time colleagues who were let go once there were no German teaching hours available, but I did need to find an occupation and a way of contributing within the institution that continued to employ me.

Similar challenges were faced by colleagues in many higher education institutions in Ireland, especially in the institute of technology (IoT) sector where languages were rarely seen as a stand-alone discipline. German could be removed readily from programmes across the sector once student demand fell below what was considered a viable level and, while part-time teachers were easily dispensed with, permanent staff were put in the same position as me and forced to reinvent themselves professionally if they were to find a role within their institutions. I became curious to find out how colleagues were coping with these changes and how their professional identities were being reshaped under the pressures they and their discipline were undergoing. The EdD programme of the University of Sheffield was the catalyst to allow me to research and analyse the process of change to my own and my colleagues’ professional identities over the ensuing period. This paper sets out the epistemological and methodological standpoint that informed the data collection and analysis of this research project. In other words, it traces the reasons why I chose to gather certain types of data, how I went about collecting and analysing them and how, like, perhaps, what might happen when constructing a piece of furniture, the shape of the project continued to shift as I met obstacles or encountered new ideas along the way. This is the methodological story of my thesis (O’Shaughnessy 2010).

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