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New Metaphors for New Understandings: Ontological Questions about Developing Grounded Theories in Engineering Education

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Critical Thinking, Leadership, and Creativity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.934.1 - 24.934.13



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Paper Authors


Kacey Beddoes Oregon State University

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Kacey Beddoes is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University. Her current research interests include interdisciplinary engineering education, gender in engineering education research, research methodologies, and peer review. She received her PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech, and serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies and Assistant Editor of the Global Engineering Series at Morgan & Claypool Publishers.

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Corey M. Schimpf Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16


Alice L. Pawley Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Alice L. Pawley is an associate professor in the School of Engineering Education with affiliations with the Women's Studies Program and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She has a B.Eng. in chemical engineering (with distinction) from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a Ph.D. minor in women's studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education (FREE, formerly RIFE) group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at the website She can be contacted by email at

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New Metaphors for New Understandings: Grounded Theories on Gendered Academic CulturesRecent engineering education scholarship has demonstrated an interest in broadening the scopeof the field in multiple ways, including the populations studied, issues addressed, and approachesemployed. Specifically, engineering education researchers have emphasized the need to focus onfaculty and to incorporate new perspectives into the field, particularly by focusing ondepartments and institutions. In line with those objectives and trends, this paper takes a groundedtheory approach focused on metaphors to examine one understudied aspect of faculty diversityand underrepresentation, specifically the climate surrounding tenure and promotion. Given thegrowing interest in research on faculty and institutions and broadening methodological diversity,and given the persistent underrepresentation of female faculty, the aims of this article arethreefold: 1) to identify how female faculty experience the tenure and promotion process, 2) todemonstrate how new metaphors can contribute to grounded theory development to produce newunderstandings of underrepresentation in academia, and 3) to identify challenges of introducinggrounded theories via metaphors in engineering education research.Metaphors structure thought and action in research as well as in everyday life. Of significance tothis analysis, is that metaphors are particularly central to the development and changing oftheories. Metaphors are rich and complex in ways that increase the theoretical significance ofdata. More specifically, in social science research, metaphors can structure research and dataanalysis in several ways. They are pattern-making devices that situate or locate patterns withintheir larger social contexts; they are decentering devices that require moving from an inferentialto an analytical level; and they connect findings to theory. Therefore, the metaphors mobilized inengineering education research warrant attention as they are of significance to the developmentof theory as well as methods. Based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 27 femalefaculty members in engineering, technology, and science fields at a large, public researchuniversity, this paper focuses on their experiences with the tenure and promotion process. Thehigh level of ambiguity surrounding tenure and promotion emerged as the leading theme. We usethat finding to demonstrate why new metaphors are needed to better understand the genderedfacets of academic careers through the creation of new (grounded) theories. This paper istherefore both empirical and methodological, contributing equally to knowledge about femaleacademics’ career pathways as well as knowledge about research methodologies in engineeringeducation more broadly. The paper concludes with discussions of gendered implications of theambiguity surrounding tenure and promotion, and current challenges of advancing groundedtheories via metaphors.  

Beddoes, K., & Schimpf, C. M., & Pawley, A. L. (2014, June), New Metaphors for New Understandings: Ontological Questions about Developing Grounded Theories in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22867

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015