All posts, Modern Languages & Applied Linguistics, Researcher profiles

Profile: Professor Helen Kelly Holmes

Prof. Helen Kelly Holmes is Professor of Applied Languages in the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Limerick. View her profile here.

“I am Professor of Applied Languages in the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics, but I actually started my university education in what is now the Kemmy Business School in UL, studying Business and German. I completed my PhD research, which focused on German linguistics, marketing and intercultural communication, at Aston University in Birmingham in 1995. I worked as a Lecturer in German at Aston from 1995-2002, and joined UL in 2002 as a Research Scholar. I was keen to return to Ireland for a variety of reasons, and working with UL, particularly with the Centre for Applied Language Studies, headed by Professor Angela Chambers, was very attractive to me. The Research Scholar programme, funded by the UL Foundation, was the ideal opportunity for me. It consisted of a five year fellowship, which allowed me to develop links and networks and gave me space to establish a stronger international reputation for my research. In 2007, I was appointed as a Lecturer in Sociolinguistics and New Media and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2013. In 2015 I was appointed as Chair in Applied Languages.

“I knew from quite early on that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t always know that research would be part of that path. My research area actually grew out of genuine curiosity, which I think is the key to enjoying a long, fruitful and rewarding career. While on cooperative education from UL, I spent six months working as a translation assistant in the export department of a company located very near to the East-West German border. I was fascinated by the border, as were the many foreign visitors we had to the company and part of my job was to take them to see the border. Shortly after this, the Berlin Wall came down and I returned the following summer to work in the area again. I found the economic and marketing transformation really interesting and read an article about how advertising from West Germany was not readily understood or appreciated by East German consumers. This made me keen to investigate the topic further, and I focused my PhD research on a study of how West German banks were marketing to East German consumers. I have maintained that interest in the relationship between languages and economics throughout my research career and I am happy to say that it still fascinates me. I work on a whole range of topics in this area such as multilingualism in advertising, how companies manage multilingual consumers, the use of minority languages in promoting tourism.

“When I started my PhD, there were no female professors at all in a department which was dominated by female staff and students – although there were many excellent female colleagues! So things have definitely improved, but there is still a lot to do. Many of the key opportunities in research require mobility which is not always compatible with family life and inevitably women still tend to have to compromise here. More schemes like the Research Scholar one I was lucky enough to benefit from would really help here. I also think that making and keeping good academic female friends is essential – people who believe in you, understand the limitations and challenges of being a female academic, encourage you to take risks and go for things, and are there to celebrate or to sympathise. I have had the benefit of some fantastic female role models and mentors who have really pushed me and made me challenge and push myself. For that reason, I think it’s important to try to be a good role model myself and a resource and mentor for younger female colleagues here in UL and elsewhere.”

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