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Director weekly highlights 18 Feb

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 18 February 2022

It’s a pleasure to be back in CoEDL — even, physically, back in the corridors of the Coombs building on the ANU campus — after a bit over three months of getting away from it all. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant and generous group of colleagues in whose hands to leave the running of CoEDL during this time out. From the bottom of my heart I’d like to thank Jane Simpson for being acting Director through that whole stretch, as well as Romina, Jo, Morgan, Celine, Cale and our whole admin team for running things with such legendary efficiency. 

Getting away from it all? Well, almost. I did completely switch off from CoEDL business, and get in some time out hiking in some beautiful wild places, but I didn’t completely switch off from linguistics. I was able to put together some of the ideas that have been fermenting in CoEDL into a course on the Evolution of Linguistic Diversity (taught, in person, at EPHE in Paris; lecture recordings will go up in a couple of weeks) and liaise closely with the Fondation Cartier, also in Paris, for some of the background to a one-woman retrospective of the art of the late Sally Gabori, a Kaiadilt (Kayardilt) woman who I first met at the beginning of my doctoral fieldwork in 1982. Sally did not get involved in art in any way until she was in her 80s, in a decade-long outpouring of creativity from 2004. It’ll be the first one-person show at the Fondation Cartier by any Australian artist. As a callow doctoral student, I had no idea of the ways that art and language can be interconnected, but over the years that has become ever clearer. I’ll say more about this exciting event in another intro. 

Anyway, it has been wonderful to have that time out to freshen up for the big push on CoEDL’s final year in 2022. This is already shaping up to be a climactic year when many long-running projects come to full boil, culminating in our final CoEDL blast-off in Canberra on September 28-30. And 2022 also happens to be the first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. That decade, in turn, will be seen next week by two special, consecutive days — International Mother Language Day on Monday 21 Feb, and then Global Language Advocacy Day the day after. There are a host of relevant events. Good luck juggling them all into what for many, myself included, is the first week back teaching, with the energising vibe of being back in face-to-face mode, at least partially. 

One of the great initiatives Jane took over the summer was to give a guest spot in these weekly messages to a different CoEDL researcher each week. This is a fabulous way of showcasing the depth and range of talent in our community, and the widely differing paths that people’s research takes them down. It is definitely a practice to continue; next week, we will hear from Karen Mulak, whose postdoc was based at our WSU node, working with Paola Escudero. This week, courtesy of Caroline Jones, we are including a set of first-hand accounts by 9 summer scholars who worked on a range of projects at our WSU node ­— a decisive moment for many as they wonder what working on a cutting-edge research project really involves. 

Have a great week everybody and look after yourselves and your loved ones. 

Nick Evans


Summer Scholars at Western Sydney University 2021-22 

This week marked the culmination of the undergraduate summer scholars’ work at Western Sydney University. On Tuesday this week, at a university-wide Zoom event, the summer scholars presented on the projects and their reflections on how they benefitted and what they learned in general, from this superb paid opportunity to contribute to real research projects at Western, in teams with other students and academics. 

What an exhilarating and inspiring lineup it was, with students presenting on projects ranging from experiments on word learning in background music, and how to maintain multilingualism in community languages among preschoolers, through to language change and the influence of language processing in studies involving analyses of corpora (Australian Radio Talkback (ART), ICE-AUS, and the Monash Corpus of Australian English (MCE)), and from how to reduce social isolation in residential aged care through to culturally safe resources to support Indigenous children on speech pathology waitlists. (A reprise is on next Tuesday 11am-12noon AEST). 

This year, 9 summer scholars joined CoEDL research teams at Western Sydney University. The students brought a lot to the program, coming as they do from a range of discipline and professional backgrounds: linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, speech pathology, and midwifery. Their energy and curiosity really sparked our summer, and their industry helped push many CoEDL projects along in productive directions! Here are some highlights from the students’ points of view. 

First, some words from Felix and Memahny, who worked with Laurence and Rob: 

Felix White: “Throughout the summer, I worked as an intern on a research project regarding language change. The project aimed to uncover the driver behind language change; specifically, it focused on whether language processing drives language change. In order to test this hypothesis, I had to conduct a corpus investigation using Australian Radio Talkback (ART), ICE-AUS, and the Monash Corpus of Australian English (MCE). The data from the corpus investigation will later be used in a forced choice experiment, and then an eye-tracking experiment, to analyse the relationship between how people interpret ambiguous sentences and how difficult the stimuli sentences are to process. Overall, the project was an incredibly valuable opportunity to experience linguistics research, and it has served as a great motivator to continue research past undergraduate studies.” 

Mehmany Serhan: “The project ‘Simplify your life: does language processing drive language change?’ investigates how processing costs change the temporal qualities and intended meaning of progressive verbs. The process types we have explored are those of reanalysis and coercion. Through undertaking a corpus investigation on Australian speakers coerced or reanalysed uses of progressive verbs, we have collected empirical data evaluating which process is the default. By engaging with new research methods, I have a more holistic understanding as to what a career in research may look like, and learnt why these methods are important in undertaking linguistic research.” 

And from Kristy and Minh Anh, who worked with Paola, Tony and Samuel in the project ‘Cross-situational word learning online’: 

Kristy Bailey: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time during the summer scholarship at MARCS. I was fortunate to work with another summer scholarship student and with an amazing principal supervisor and team. Our project immersed us in the world of academic research, and I learnt how to run an experiment, recruit participants, and analyse data. It was incredibly rewarding to get first-hand experience with the academic process, and it gave me an insight into psychology research that I had very little understanding of beforehand. We studied cross-situational word learning in an online environment and learnt how even the slight manipulation of independent variables has a profound effect on word learning. Overall, I cannot thank the team I worked with enough.” 

Minh Anh Tran: "With the Summer Scholarship Research program at MARCS, I have had the opportunity to observe and help conduct a scientific experiment firsthand, allowing me to get experience with data collection, preparation, and analysis. Personally, taking part in the program has not only provided me with a great opportunity to work and grow academically with published researchers, but has also given me the chance to help with the research of the university I am enrolling in. This in turn benefits me as a current student in terms of resources and pride being a student at the university, and hopefully will benefit future students as well. The program has also provided me with a valuable chance of networking with academics and fellow high-achieving students." 

As CoEDL enters its final calendar year, translational projects that apply CoEDL findings and frameworks to practical problems are another key strand of what is happening at Western. 

From Faiza and Patrick, who worked with Paola and Gloria: 

Faiza Humaira: "My name is Faiza Humaira and I am an international student from Bangladesh, studying the Bachelor of Psychology (Honours). In the past few months, I had the opportunity to partake in the Summer Scholarship program at Little Multilingual Minds (LMM), under the supervision of Professor Paola Escudero and Gloria Pino Escobar. I was tasked with the preparations for the launch of LMM – Primary School (a program for primary school children) and for extending the LMM program into Outside School Hours Care. It was an incredibly insightful journey, where I attained practical, hands-on experience on how a research program is maintained. Some of the skills I gained during this time include – working with Qualtrics forms and excel data sheets, creating procedural manuals and literature reviews, being a team player while showing my own initiative, and helping to develop translational research from the onset. Both my supervisors, who were ever-supportive, kindly and patiently guided us through our tasks. The journey was made even more meaningful by having an amazing and diverse team of fellow research assistants. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity and the skills I acquired during this Summer Scholarship program.” 

Patrick Adam: “The Little Multilingual Minds project gave me an invaluable window into research with children, an area of interest of mine, and into a fascinating area of applied psychology and linguistics. As a monolingual English speaker, learning about the development of bilingual children and the potential hardships of working within a society where monolingualism prevails has driven me to help find ways to track their socio-emotional development and develop their wellbeing as emergent dual language learners to hopefully enhance their self-esteem and -efficacy and sense of community connectedness. The Summer Scholarship reinforced my desire to pursue higher degree research, and I cannot wait to continue my research with the LMM team and into the future.” 

This year a new stream of the Western summer program called Partnership Scholarships specifically supports students joining in collaborative research between Western academics and external organisations. There was strong interest in this program, and two projects were funded in this stream: 

From Jamilla and Riley, who worked with Caroline, Celia, Mark A, Mark R, and Ruth, on a project with Uniting: 

Jamilla Smith: “I applied for the Western Sydney University Summer Research Scholarship at the MARCS Institute in preparation for applying for Honours. Now, as the program is wrapping up, I have begun planning for a PhD. This experience has confirmed my passion for research. I am confident in my decision to apply for a part-time PhD and clinical position upon graduating my Bachelor of Speech Pathology. Being paid to investigate how we can increase the quality of life of aged-care residents is an incredible job. We are working toward updating policy that will continue to impact older adults long after we have retired. As a newly appointed MARCS Institute research assistant, I am excited to continue this work and participate in new projects. I am so grateful for the opportunity that the WSU and Uniting Westmead team have provided for me. Thank you.” 

Riley Nicholson: “As a summer volunteer working on the Uniting Westmead project at the MARCS Institute at Western Sydney university, I broadened both my personal and academic experiences. I was able to research in a field that I had not explored before and learned a great deal about the issues of loneliness and small social networks that are faced by many in the aged care community. I was also able to expand my knowledge of tools such as Scopus and Zotero which will be extremely useful skills to have as a currently studying scientist. Overall, it has helped me develop as a person and as a scientist to have had this experience working with the MARCS institute on the Uniting Westmead project and I look forward to collaborating further with the researchers in the program.” 

And from Brooke, who worked with Caroline, Chantelle, Mark R, and Ruth, on a project with Hearing Australia: 

Brooke Toli: “As a proud Darug woman, I think it is imperative that cultural safety is upheld in all settings where an Aboriginal person is involved. There is little written about the process of how clinical staff should deliver mainstream, evidence-based interventions for the Aboriginal communities. The papers I found state that an ‘outsider’ to the communities may find the way in which Aboriginal communities communicate difficult. It also expresses the need for program adaptation, evaluation and staff training and support to be accounted to provide cultural accessibility without any loss to the care given. 

One paper looked at the barriers to Aboriginal people accessing healthcare and continuing to utilize the services. It exposes the shortage of Aboriginal health care workers working within the hospital setting. There is a lack of funding and resources available to institutions to hire Aboriginal staff. There is a clear acknowledgement that Aboriginal healthcare workers have been imperative to the outcomes of Aboriginal people. The delivery of cultural safety and how it is taught to non- Aboriginal people is extremely important to me and gets me passionate each time I talk about it. 

I am hoping that this project can learn just as much from me as I have from it. It has taught me the process in which research is conducted, to be able to work with diverse teams of people, to be very respectful of the papers we use for our studies and to not take for granted the methods and results they produce, and that research is not as straightforward as it may come across to others. 

It has also encouraged me to continue to influence the way in which cultural safety is assessed, taught, and delivered. The health care system must change. 

I am extremely grateful for this opportunity, and to be able work alongside some very wise, knowledgeable, and understanding researchers. After this summer project is complete, I have been offered a casual position with the MARCS Institute to continue this project to see the completion of the literature review and the result of the resource that will be provided to Aboriginal communities. Thank you to all those involved for providing me this opportunity.” 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University