Introductory Blog – Saira Fitzgerald

My name is Saira Fitzgerald and I am a new visiting researcher at CASS. Thanks to Tony McEnery’s incredible help and support, I succeeded in obtaining a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Luckily for me, SSHRC allowed the fellowship to be held outside Canada and CASS agreed to host my research under Tony’s supervision, which was a dream come true! Until COVID-19 hit and forced everything to close and go virtual. So like everyone else, I’ve had to work from home, participating in group meetings through various online platforms, which have been great but no substitute for in-person chats in sunny beautiful Lancaster and Bailrigg House.

My current research project builds on my doctoral research, which focussed on the International Baccalaureate (IB), a key player in the global education industry, and its impact on Canada’s public education policy. By using corpus linguistics, I was able to uncover discourses of discrimination and disadvantage that had become much more widespread and systemic than previously thought. This was an important finding in the context of Canada where education is a provincial responsibility and everyone appears to be doing their own thing. The absence of a unified national education system becomes more pronounced by the small-scale nature of IB research in Canada which is dominated by studies on individual provinces or schools. To get at the BIG picture, I needed a big data solution and corpus linguistics provided the way!

The impact of the IB on education policy can be seen on multiple levels (elementary, secondary, post-secondary, teacher training) but this tends to go unnoticed amidst other discussions about education. My aim now is to expand the scope of my enquiry to look at IB discourses on a global scale, conducting comparative and time-series studies to see what further insights we might discover about the IB’s influence over its 50-year history.

It’s easy to see why CASS is the perfect place to do this research!