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Postgraduate research profile: Mark Ryan

Mark Ryan is a PhD Candidate in the field of Applied Linguistics, as well as a tutor in Linguistics and Sociolinguistics. His research aims to create a language policy and programme, which can be implemented in various contexts (e.g. domestic, schools, businesses), aimed at mitigating the harmful effects of heteronormative ideologies and implicit homophobia and discrimination in language.

The policy will be informed by data analysed using corpus linguistics techniques and critical discourse analysis. Mark’s research is under the supervision of Dr Máiréad Moriarty, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and Assistant Dean International.

My interest in this field has personal origins. Growing up as someone who didn’t fit the traditional societal mould of masculinity, a question I was repeatedly asked was, “why do you sound so gay?”, so when I took a Sociolinguistics module in my first year of University I thought, “Here’s my chance to find out what’s going on!” This led to me conduct a Conversation Analysis for my Final Year Project of my BA in Applied Languages, and to pursue my studies at Master’s level.

“My MA thesis examined the representation of queer people in newspaper articles at the time of the Marriage Equality Referendum of May 2015”

Gradually, this concern with linguistic indices of sexuality gave way to, in my opinion, the more pressing issues of the underlying ideology behind that initial question and why it even matters in the first place? As such, my MA thesis examined the representation of queer people in newspaper articles at the time of the Marriage Equality Referendum of May 2015. The aim of this was to reveal the role of language in the discursive construction of stereotypes and the reproduction of harmful ideologies affecting LGBTQ+ people nationwide. Having identified how this discrimination occurs in Ireland, I felt compelled to take the next step in UL towards counteracting it.

The purpose of my PhD research is to enact tangible change and mitigate the harmful effects of heteronormative ideologies and implicit homophobia and discrimination in language. Language policy is one mechanism by which dominant groups establish hegemony in language use. It will not be designed to prohibit certain linguistic practices, rather, taking Cooper’s definition of language planning as, “deliberate attempts to influence the linguistic behaviour of others”, will be designed to promote inclusivity and awareness.

It is my hope that my research will equip teachers in schools, parents of LGBTQ+ children, and companies who are conscious of inclusivity with the knowledge to promote diversity and to speak of matters of sexuality and gender in an informed and non-discriminatory manner.

Why did you choose to do your PhD at UL?

Over the course of my BA in Applied Languages and MA in Applied Linguistics, both of which I completed at UL, I developed an encouraging network, comprising of teachers and fellow students. Returning to UL affords me the opportunity to preserve and foster as these relationships which have been enriching thus far. My supervisors and teachers have always encouraged me and equipped me with the tools to engage with my particular research interests in a meaningful way – this is invaluable in my opinion.

The University of Limerick also boasts an excellent postgraduate research community. Many colleagues of mine have become good friends, and with all the courses and training programmes on offer, someone new to the world of academia will soon feel at home.

Another reason I chose the University of Limerick is because the campus offers many opportunities for PhD students to maintain a healthy work-life balance – something I’ve learned is an absolute must when undertaking a PhD! Whether you want to join a club or society, just take a stroll by the river, or go for a quick swim, UL has you covered. This holistic aspect gave UL the edge for me.

“My supervisors and teachers have always encouraged me and equipped me with the tools to engage with my particular research interests in a meaningful way”

Have you received any financial support for your studies from AHSS?

I was lucky enough to receive a Fee Award from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences for my MA in Applied Linguistics, as well as a 3-year PhD Fellowship which was granted to me by the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics. These have allowed me to continue studying what I love and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity.

Have you attended any workshops or received any training in Professional Development at UL?

I have attended workshops in UL aimed at acquainting researchers with specific software such as Nvivo (textual analysis software) and Sketch Engine (corpus linguistics software). Both of these are central to my research, so it was fortunate I was able to get some hands-on experience with them, and get advice from other researchers who are already proficient in their use. Also, I took a Professional Development module which has enabled me to be more articulate when speaking about my research, skills and attributes.

“I chose the University of Limerick is because the campus offers many opportunities for PhD students to maintain a healthy work-life balance”

Have you attended any conferences since you started your PhD?

During my Masters, I presented my thesis at the Annual UL-MIC Applied Linguistics Conference. This was excellent practice and an opportunity to get feedback on my proposal from lecturers and other students. Additionally, I was chaired multiple sessions at the International Association for World Englishes Conference which took place at the University of Limerick in June 2019. I am currently in the process of adapting my thesis for publication, and seeing the experts at work was invaluable to me.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking of doing a PhD?

If you’re thinking of doing a PhD, make it a reflection of who you are and your interests. Research is so much easier when you enjoy reading (and there is a lot of reading) about your specific topic. If you have any questions about the day-to-day of doing a PhD, talk to current students and get them to share their experiences. Finally, don’t be scared of it – you are able!

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