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Institutional Ethnography: A Research Method To Investigate The Work Life Experiences Of Women Faculty Members In Stem Disciplines

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



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Educational Research and Methods

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Page Numbers

15.748.1 - 15.748.13



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Paper Authors

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Dina Banerjee Purdue University

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Alice Pawley Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Institutional Ethnography: A research method to investigate the work-life experiences of women faculty members in STEM disciplines

Introduction Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among engineering faculty. A diverse engineering faculty body is important because it increases the likelihood of equitable hiring practices and reduces the likelihood of a hostile workplace climate, among other reasons. In turn, research hypothesizes that a diverse engineering faculty body will attract, recruit, and retain diverse students to the engineering profession. While there are a bevy of research papers published every year to address this persistent concern, there are few new or innovative ideas informing our theoretical groundwork for understanding these underrepresentations.

Institutional ethnography (IE) is a method used in sociology to understand the experiences of marginalized people in different kinds of institutions. Operationalized by sociologist Dorothy Smith, IE allows researchers to examine how institutions’ rules and regulations impact the lives and work experiences of people who work in those institutions. The main data collection processes for IE are interviews, discursive analyses of organizational texts and documents, and observations to study institutional members’ interactions with these same texts and policies. Researchers focus on how institutional participants understand, perceive, and negotiate institutional rules and how those understandings and negotiations affects their personal and professional successes.

In this paper, we outline how IE is an effective method of investigating the experiences of women in STEM faculty positions. We describe IE’s use as a research method within the ADVANCE-Purdue project. ADVANCE-Purdue is a NSF-sponsored project that aims to improve the job success of faculty, with a particular focus on women of color, in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines of Purdue University. Using IE as a method to study the career-based experiences of the women faculty members of the STEM disciplines, we ask how institutionally generated texts (at the departmental, college, and university levels) shape their experiences as faculty members.

We have selected two kinds of policies that are directly related to women faculty members’ work lives: a recently implemented parental leave policy (PL), and the promotion and tenure policies situated within colleges (P&T). By conducting in-depth interviews with STEM faculty members and exploring organizational texts such as the PL and P&T document guidelines, or college and university level strategic plans and policies for stopping the tenure clock or granting course relief, we will demonstrate the usefulness of the IE method in engineering education research. This methodology has theoretical and policy implications that address the phenomenon of women’s underrepresentation among engineering faculty.

We begin this paper with a discussion of the sociological theory investigating the construct of an “ideal worker” in the context of academia. We then describe some of the theory behind the institutional ethnography research method, and describe our own data collection and some preliminary results in the context of promotion and tenure texts for STEM faculty in our study. Finally, we present some of our conclusions. It is hoped this paper serves engineering education

Banerjee, D., & Pawley, A. (2010, June), Institutional Ethnography: A Research Method To Investigate The Work Life Experiences Of Women Faculty Members In Stem Disciplines Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16159

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