Undergraduate Research OpportunitiesUT's Department of Linguistics is committed to teaching and research in linguistics, the scientific and humanistic study of human language. Our research examines form and meaning in a wide variety of the world's languages, including ones that are quite endangered. We study language as part of the biological and cognitive endowment of our species. We use computational techniques to probe the structure of human languages.
Students in the Linguistics Department are busy studying what the presence of loan words indicates about the subsistence patterns of Amazonian natives, creating a standardized sentence recognition test for non-native speakers of English, watching popular movies to analyze the sociolinguistic implications of white characters using African American Vernacular English, and determining why your mother sometimes calls you by your sister's name. 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 are 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 the spring of 2010, six students spoke before an audience of their peers and UT faculty members at the Liberal Arts Research Symposium. Three posters created by undergraduates in conjunction with their research were displayed at the Undergraduate Research Bazaar. In March of 2008, two of Dr. Epps's students, Greg Finley and Dhanajay Jagannathan, presented a poster titled An Areal-Typological Survey of Amazonian Languages at the Conference on Endangered Languages and Cultures of Native America at the University of Utah. Just last year, Katerina Rouzina presented her thesis research at Michigan State, and the year before that Alisha Van Eimeren presented at an undergraduate conference at Harvard.
Working closely with faculty, graduate students, and peers prepares students for future collaborations in graduate school and the professional world. Participating in research teaches them the purpose and nature of scientific inquiry. In the words of one honors student, Anthony Munoz, "[being involved in undergraduate research] is probably the best thing I've ever done in my academic career." Kelsey Neely, an honors student who has spent three years doing research, said "it helped me develop my research interests and prepared me for graduate school.... I'm confident that my research experience contributed greatly to getting accepted into my first-choice schools."
If you are interested in research opportunities in the Department of Linguistics, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.