HEPPP Featured Researcher – Ciaran Burke

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When writing this piece, I undertook the slightly scary process of counting how many years it has been since graduating with my PhD; I am fast approaching my first decade of post-graduate life after graduating in 2012. A native of Belfast, I attended Queen’s University studying single hons Sociology, and, subsequently, I won a Northern Ireland Department of Employment and Learning PhD studentship which allowed me to pursue my doctoral research full-time. The focus of the thesis was examining the role of social class on graduate employment trajectories. Upon graduation, I was appointed as a lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University, a process that sounds quite straightforward but one which I will always feel very lucky to have gone through. It was at Ulster University that I started my teaching career, completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and Practice and gained my fellowship of the HEA. From Ulster, I made my way across to England, working initially as a lecturer in Plymouth University and then as an Associate Professor in University of Derby before finding my home at UWE.

At UWE, I am an Associate Professor of Higher Education within the Department of Education and Childhood. Like many of us, my role spans a whole range of topics, including teaching and supervising undergraduate, masters and doctoral students. In addition, I am heavily involved in curriculum development, and I sit on several committees and boards, including Faculty Board. Through my roles as UWE, I am fortunate to be able to pursue and apply my research interests into my teaching, supervision and wider University responsibilities. I have developed a broad range of research interests since graduating with my PhD which all sit within the broad remit of widening participation and social justice. I have continued to research issues around graduate employment including undergraduates’ understanding of the labour market and support required from universities, the graduate pathways of dancers and actors to think more broadly about the impact of the growing trend of portfolio careers and to conceptualize a critical understanding of “graduate resilience”. In addition, I have been lucky enough to be involved in pedagogical research on formative feedback and the impact of student peer review, research on post-16 education choices, widening participation in higher education, careers policy and support for service pupils in primary and secondary schools.

One research passion that sits outside of my main focus (what I get invited to talk about or what I get invited to examine a doctoral thesis on) is ableism and method within social sciences. In a non-book-plugging fashion … I have an edited book coming out at the end of this month with Dr. Bronagh Byrne (Queen’s University Belfast) entitled “Social Research and Disability: Developing Inclusive Research Spaces for Disabled Researchers”. In the book, we discuss what I’ve termed “epistemic ableism” – effectively, we argue that all social science methods, whether influenced by Positivism or Interpretivism, are inherently ableist due to the narrow concept of rigour. We suggest that social science has not really moved on since the establishment of the discipline in the late 19th Century in terms of its pre-occupation with rigour to demonstrate its scientific credentials. It is not to say that I or anyone else in the book does not see the merit of rigour; however, in its current form, this is a disabling and exclusionary set of criteria. I make the point in my own chapter that this issue is more acute for early researchers – in particular, doctoral research – in establishing the rules and expectations of social research. Instead, we advocate for a rethink on what constitutes rigour, and this starts with university departments approaching how we teach methods and, importantly, how we assess and examine research. 

I wanted to end this blog entry by talking a little bit about what I do outside of the office and in my spare time, but I’m not sure many of us have that at the minute! I do have aspirations to read more Philip Pullman, and I’m counting my four-year old’s early interest in Fantastic Mr. Fox as a major win. I’d be really happy to talk with anyone about my research and, in particular, ableism and method.

You can find me on my UWE profile page and on Twitter @ciaranburkesoc

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