Student Research in Linguistics at Emory: A guide

Prof Pak's ClassIf you're interested in pursuing a linguistics-related academic career, you should make a serious effort to gain substantial research experience before you graduate. If you're not sure if you're interested or not, the best way to find out is by trying!

There are many ways students can get involved in linguistics research at Emory; here are some suggestions for getting started (adapted from http://www.lin.ufl.edu/PDF/researchopportunities.pdf).

Take LING-399: Linguistics Research Workshop. This course is designed to give students hands-on experience developing a research project in linguistics. Students work through every step of the research process -- developing a hypothesis, researching and assessing previous work, collecting linguistic data through a variety of techniques, analyzing data by applying quantitative methods, and presenting study results with visuals and text. The class is a writing-intensive workshop, with frequent in-class writing assignments and collaborative feedback exercises.

Work with a faculty member as a research assistant. Paid and unpaid research assistantships may be available. For psychology-related research, visit http://psychology.emory.edu/undergrad/research.html (see also http://www.psychology.emory.edu/cognition/bauer/lab/forstudents.html). For research in other areas of linguistics, contact the faculty member you might be interested in working with and ask if they have any projects you could participate in. We are hoping to post a list of faculty research projects soon; in the meantime, refer to the Linguistics faculty webpages at http://linguistics.emory.edu/home/people/corefaculty/index.html. Assuming that you find a good match, there are various ways to conduct a research assistantship:

  • The SIRE program offers support for paid research partnerships through the academic year (deadline in July) and over the summer (deadline in March). See http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/research/sire/index.html.
  • You may be able to earn course credit (2 to 8 hours) by arranging a Directed Research project (LING-499[1]) together with a faculty supervisor (see below). 
  • Small stipends may be available for other faculty-directed research projects.

What if you want to do independent research? Finding a topic is traditionally viewed as the 'first step' in an independent research project. In reality, topics usually emerge as part of a long, gradual process that involves input from many different experiences. Look back on the courses you've taken and think about questions and problems that have come up in readings or discussions that you found particularly intriguing. Keep a mental or written record of these ideas. Also think beyond the classroom -- get on the Emory Linguistics mailing list, join the student Linguistics Club, and go to our talks, films and other events. Talk to various faculty members about your ideas for research outside of class. Sometimes students think that they have to settle on a topic before they can approach a potential faculty mentor, but that's not true. It makes sense to start talking to various faculty members early on, even if your ideas are very vague. We can help you talk through possibilities and suggest alternatives.

Once you have an idea for a research project, you can try to turn it into an independent study (LING-4991) or honors thesis. In order to do an independent study, you need to work with a faculty supervisor; this should be arranged before the semester starts. Together with your supervisor, you'll decide on what work you'll complete, when you'll complete it, and how many credit hours you'll earn.

Honors Thesis. If you want to write an honors thesis, you should read the College guidelines here: http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/honors/index.html. In Linguistics, we urge qualified students to settle on a topic and an advisor by the spring of their junior year (if you're just starting to think about a topic in September of your senior year, it's probably too late). Here is an approximate timeline; note that not all projects will necessarily fit this kind of structure.

  • Spring of junior year - settle on a topic and an advisor
  • Summer - do background reading; design study protocol (if applicable); apply for SIRE funding if needed (http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/research/sire/index.html); apply for IRB approval if needed (for research on human subjects; see http://www.irb.emory.edu/).
  • Fall - recruit participants and gather data (if applicable); begin analysis; invite other committee members; start writing.
  • Spring - complete analysis and finish writing; schedule your defense for early April (which means writing needs to be done by the end of March); present your thesis at the SIRE research symposium and other venues (see below).

The honors thesis is a significant time commitment, and you should think carefully about whether you want to take it on. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about honors research is that it should be driven by the research, not the honors. If you think you would want to do this research even if you wouldn't earn honors for it, that's a good sign.

Funding your research. The SIRE program offers independent research grants to students each semester and over the summer. You can apply for a grant to buy special materials, pay study participants, or travel to a research site or conference. For honors thesis research, you'll usually need to apply in July. See http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/research/sire/index.html. There may also be small stipends available from the Linguistics Program. You'll be asked to submit a written proposal and budget.

Publishing your research. Once your project is well underway, you should consider presenting your findings to other linguists. Some suitable venues:

  • The Emory Linguistics Poster Session: As part of the SIRE Undergraduate Research Symposium, the Linguistics Program has its own poster session in April every year. We usually hold a workshop for our students ahead of time, where faculty members give students guidance about setting up and presenting their posters. This is open to all student research projects in linguistics, not just honors theses or SIRE-funded projects.
  • The Emory Undergraduate Research Journal (EURJ): http://eurj.com/. A variety of formats are accepted, including traditional research papers as well as short abstracts and informal writing about your research experiences.
  • Other conferences include the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics (http://www.secol.org/), the Toronto Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/%7eslugs/), and NWAV (for sociolinguistic research; google 'nwav' for current website). See also the Linguist List Calls and Conferences website for a more complete list of current conferences: http://linguistlist.org/callconf/index.cfm. If you get accepted to an off-campus conference you can apply for SIRE funding for travel; there may also be funds available from the Linguistics Program.


[1] Remember that you can only get credit for the Linguistics major/minor for one course at the 495-499 level.