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Richard P. Meier, Chair CLA 4.304, Mailcode B5100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-1701

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Students in the Linguistics Department are busy studying what the presence of loan words indicates about the subsistence patterns of Amazonian natives; researching the intelligibility of speech; helping with experimental studies in the phonology of stress and duration; working on studies in child language development, in studies of deaf children with apparent disorders affecting sign language development, and helping with studies on the linguistics of ASL.  You may be surprised to hear that graduate students are not the only ones doing these things.  Many undergraduates are involved in exciting and cutting edge research projects in a wide variety of linguistic fields.  And if you are an undergrad with an interest in linguistics, you could be doing research, too.

There is a plethora of options for students looking to get involved in research.  Some choose to join one of the existing projects in the department.  Research assistants can expect to be assigned specific tasks by the project leader. Within the Linguistics Department, there are research groups that regularly solicit the help of undergraduates to study topics such as child language acquisition, American Sign Language, experimental phonetics, and language change in hunter-gatherer societies.   Students involved in such projects can receive class credit for LIN 357, an upper division elective course.  LIN 357 is offered on a pass/fail basis only.  If you register for LIN 357, you will be expected to devote 9-10 hours per week to the research project.  Taking LIN 357 will give you an opportunity to work closely with faculty and/or advanced doctoral students.

Students who wish to undertake their own research projects often decide to write an honors thesis.  Under the supervision of a faculty advisor, students taking the thesis course, LIN 679H, will spend two semesters researching and writing a substantial paper.  Past topics have included the use of synaesthetic metaphors across languages (Dylan Bumford), English-Russian code switching (Katerina Rouzina), factors affecting word recall (Cassandra Jacobs), and computational models of word meaning in context (Jessika Roesner).  Those who write a thesis and meet certain GPA requirements can graduate with departmental honors.

As you can see, opportunities and topics for research are vast.

What is even more astounding is that students are not merely doing this research; they are presenting it at conferences!  In 2013, seven Linguistics majors participated in the Liberal Arts Research Symposium.  This year at the Symposium, Aidan Aannestad is presenting on his honors research comparing the grammars of Korea and Japan.  Dr. Rajka Smiljanic and her students, both majors and non-majors, are presenting two posters--“Speaking Style Adaptations Across the Lifespan” and “Exposure to Foreign Accented Speech Aids Listeners’ Speech Perception”--at the Longhorn Research Bazaar during Undergraduate Research Week.  Undergraduate students involved with the first poster are Elisa Ferracane, Karen Johnson, and Cristabella Trimble-Quiz, and those speaking on the second are Gaby Cook, Maddie Oakley, and Emily Tagtow.  These are just a few examples of the work Linguistics undergraduates are doing and the opportunities the department provides for both majors and non-majors.  Looking beyond UT, in recent years, undergraduate Linguistics majors have presented at meetings of the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco and Rhode Island.

Working closely with faculty, graduate students, and peers prepares students for future collaborations in graduate school and the professional world.  One student in the Linguistics honors program, Bobbi Duncan, whose thesis examines “the relationship between language, identity, and perception, to determine what psycho-sociolinguistic factors play a role in language perception,” strongly endorses participation in departmental honors and independent research,

[b]ecause an undergraduate research project is like the thread that ties all of the work you've done together, and completes the cycle of education. You come into a research project with what you love, and you then get to apply what you've learned, in order to contribute to the body of knowledge that future students will draw from in their own research. When you're done with a thesis, you have something to show after graduation besides the diploma, and when someone asks, what did you learn, you can tell them, "Here's what I study, and here's why it's important." 

Also, after years of being told what you're going to study, it's wonderful to be able to decide for yourself what's important enough to learn more about. Research gives you the opportunity to shape your own college career and develop the path you want to be on when you get ready to move forward, whether into grad school or into a career.

If you are interested in research opportunities in the Department of Linguistics, please send an email to c.gladstone@austin.utexas.edu.

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