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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Linguistics

Eric Campbell – Documentary, descriptive, and historical linguistics, particularly of Mesoamerican languages
Niamh Kelly – Descriptive & Historical Linguistics

NIAMH KELLY


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Amazonian Languages

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Honors International in Spanish & Psychological Studies, National University of Ireland – Galway, Ireland

What is life like for a linguistics graduate student?
Life is busy! I find it inspiring and challenging. Classes and assignments are priority, and definitely keep me occupied all the time. On top of that, there are talks and conferences to attend. I am sure I will start presenting at conferences soon, so that’s another thing to work on. A lot of graduate students also work as teaching or research assistants. So it’s a packed schedule, but one I find exhilarating.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Fulltime students take three classes so that’s nine hours a week, and as a TA I sit in on three more hours of class. I also have three office hours a week. The “free” time is spent working on assignments and reading. There are often talks, or depending on the class, some of us meet to discuss homework.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Simply that I get to study a topic that I adore! Another aspect that I love about the linguistics department is the atmosphere: there is a lot of camaraderie among the students, who are of various ages, nationalities and levels in the course. We have students from many different parts of the world, and it’s always fascinating to learn about different places and languages. There is also a really nice relationship between the professors and the students.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
In summer 2010 I began a pilot project on the documentation of Nomatsiguenga, a native language of Peru. The purpose of the project is to record and analyse this language, since it has not been studied in great detail since the 1960s. Data on it is scarce so a colleague and I went to the Peruvian Amazon to live with a Nomatsiguenga community for 6 weeks to record and learn some of the language. I hope to focus on a phonological analysis, that is, a study of the sound system, and eventually I would like to compare the language to other closely related languages in order to do a reconstruction of the mother language.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I worked on a short project for my psychology class. It was a survey on sexist attitudes among men and women in Ireland. I think experience on a research project is definitely valuable: you learn research methods and you get an opportunity to work with others in your class. Having said that, don’t be intimidated or feel unqualified if you didn’t have a chance to do research before; in grad school, you take classes in what you need to learn as you go along.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am just starting my second year in the PhD programme, but before I do my PhD I will be getting the MA, so I will soon start working on my thesis/qualifying paper. In the linguistics department there are six obligatory courses, four of which I did in first year. So I have two of those left to do, and my other courses will be my choice. The courses I have done so far have kept me extremely busy, but I have really enjoyed and been inspired by all of them. I am excited to start new ones.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I work as a TA for a Syntax and Semantics course this semester. Working as a TA differs depending on what class and what professor it is. The main tasks are grading every week, and you also attend the classes. You have office hours, which is when you are available to meet with the students to help with their homework or help them with topics they have questions about. I really enjoy being a TA because it lets you see how different professors set up their class schedules and how they like to grade, and it lets you get experience grading and sometimes presenting a class.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
My undergrad course was in Ireland so there are a lot of differences! The campus here is huge, but generally classes in the linguistics department are fairly close together. Graduate classes are usually smaller than undergrad classes. You get to know the professors well, especially those you work with. There’s a very informal atmosphere in the classroom, which I like a lot. Students are encouraged to really participate and ask questions and challenge the professors. That means you have to have done the required reading. The workload is definitely greater. Another difference for me is having a choice in what classes I take. In my undergrad course, once you chose a subject you were given your schedule. Here, I get to pick classes that are in my area of interest.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Graduate students are expected to use initiative and to be productive, so you need to motivate yourself. You need to keep on top of the work throughout the semester, partly because that’s the way to learn about your subjects and partly just because homework grades make up a large portion of your final grade. When you begin, and for some time after that, you’re going to be around people who know more about linguistics than you do – people who have taken the classes you’re taking, people who have advanced to candidacy, and of course professors. Ask questions, get involved in discussions and get to know people!

Another thing that’s important to remember is that there’s no rush. If you’re not sure what you want to study, you don’t have to go to grad school right away. I took two years out to travel and live in different countries, and that experience has served me well. You’ll know when you’re ready to re-enter the world of academics.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Read up on the different areas of linguistics so that you have an idea of what you want to focus on. This will help to narrow down what universities to apply to. Look at a variety of universities to find the one that fits you: your interests, your career plans (even if they’re just ideas at this stage) and funding opportunities. Contact professors and graduate students with questions about the department.
  2. If at all possible, visit the department. There’s a lot to be said for the feeling you get in a place. I went to the open events of a couple of universities and after that there was no doubt in my mind; I just knew I had to be here. It suited who I am and I knew I would get along with the people here.
  3. If your undergrad isn’t in linguistics, read some introductory books, so you’re not starting from scratch with your classes. The classes cater to students who have no background in linguistics, but it definitely gives you a boost to know that you are familiar with some of the basics of the field.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My other option was the University of Southern California. I chose UT because the department’s focus is more in line with my chosen area of linguistics, and also because I simply felt “at home” in this department.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistics to check out?
I love reading Language Log.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be working in a university, teaching linguistics and doing research, probably on an under-documented language. I have no idea what part of the world that will be in, which I find exciting!

Do you have a grad school story you would like to share?
This past summer I spent 6 weeks in the Peruvian Amazon, working on a language there. Working in descriptive linguistics opens you up to a world of experiences far beyond what you would probably find yourself in otherwise. I was living in the jungle with a colleague, adapting to having only the basics, and figuring out how to document a language. It was a hugely challenging experience that forced me to overcome fears and learn new customs. So working in this area of linguistics is not your average job!

Download Niamh’s Profile

ERIC CAMPBELL


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: A grammar of Zenzontepec Chatino, an Otomanguean language of southern Oaxaca, Mexico

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Linguistics & Spanish, University of Michigan Ann Arbor – MI

What is life like for a linguistics graduate student?
Graduate student life is very exciting. Coursework is pretty intensive and is the focus for the first three years. Research becomes more central as one goes along and is the main focus by the fourth year. As one moves on, there is more travel for doing fieldwork and/or attending and presenting at academic conferences.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day involves several of the following activities: attend class, read articles, work with data, attend a colloquium, meet with a professor, study some more, meet with colleagues.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In addition to being a great program all around, there are several faculty members and many students specializing in indigenous languages of Latin America, so there is a strong community of people that share my interests. This allows a mix of individual and collaborative work.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation will be a grammar of Zenzontepec Chatino, an Otomanguean language of southern Oaxaca, Mexico. It will be a description of the structure of this language, investigated through the collection and analysis of recorded speech and the creation of a trilingual Chatino-Spanish-English dictionary. I also study related languages: other varieties of Chatino, Zapotec, and more distantly related Otomanguean languages in order to reconstruct earlier stages of the language(s) and learn about prehistory in that part of the world.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I've completed my M.A. and advanced to doctoral candidacy. I am no longer taking courses but I am still gathering data, so I have not yet begun writing my dissertation. Right now I am working on several articles, attending conferences, and doing fieldwork in the community where Chatino is spoken.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently have support from a research grant, so I work more on my own schedule right now. I was a TA for one semester and an AI for two semesters previously. Being a TA is a great way to begin the transition from student to teacher. Usually, you get to give a couple of lectures, hold office hours, and grade assignments and exams. It is fun working with students, and you learn a lot by putting together and conveying the knowledge you have gathered. Life as an AI is very busy and a lot of fun. Having to plan and prepare everything from schedules and lectures to assignments and exams is time consuming and challenging. It can be difficult balancing teaching with research, but it gets easier as you move on and it is rewarding.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference is the amount of time I devote to study. As an undergrad, I did all of my required schoolwork, which was more or less finite. As a graduate student, there really is no limit. You just prioritize and focus on the most important or immediate tasks. The best part is that you get to choose what those tasks are more and more as you progress.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I have no regrets, but had I known what I know now, I would have done an undergraduate thesis with only one major, instead of a double major. The research would have better prepared me for research as a grad student.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Choose the program with faculty whose work interests you most. If you are not sure where to go, start by asking your favorite professors for suggestions, and then read the CVs and some of the work by the faculty at those institutions.
  2. Take as many linguistics courses as possible as an undergraduate, or at least get some background in the field, even if it is not required.
  3. Start on your applications early and ask people to check them out and suggest ways to improve them.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistics to check out?
The World Atlas of Language Structures Online

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be on the faculty at a university, conducting research and fieldwork, and teaching linguistics classes.

Do you have a grad school story you would like to share?
A great way to get started in linguistic research is to get involved with a project that is already underway or just beginning. I knew I wanted to work in Mesoamerica, but I hadn't decided on a language to focus on. By making connections and being open to opportunities as they came my way, I was invited to join two projects, The Chatino Language Documentation Project at UT and the Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica. Because I was able to join these projects, I was able to begin original research in my second year of grad school, I got extra training, and I never felt lost or without direction.

Download Eric’s Profile

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