Internship – Research Intern at the Department of Experimental Psychology (Speech and Brain Research group) – University of Oxford

Contributor: Shyla

What? I spent the summer at the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. I was working with the Speech & Brain Research Group.

Why did you choose this place? The group, as the name suggests, does behavioural and neuroimaging research on speech within the brain. I am currently doing my undergraduate degree in Psychology & Linguistics, so the group seemed like a perfect introduction to research in neuropsychology and psycholinguistics. On a more personal note, the thought of living in Oxford and experiencing a British summer really appealed to me (never mind that it ended up being the wettest summer in British history).

How did you find the application process? There was no formal application. I took the initiative to email a member of the group to ask if there was space for an undergraduate intern. Through a series of emails, I was accepted, and began preparing for work by reading some literature that the group had produced.

What did you do here? Most of the work I did is still ongoing, so I cannot disclose too much, but I will try to provide a general idea. I did a multitude of assistant work, as my goal was to learn as much as I could about the research process in relation to psychology and linguistics. One of the experimental devices I became familiar with was used for trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This is a non-invasive technique which conducts electricity to stimulate the cerebral cortex, and we used it for a word-learning experiment. I also personally experienced trans-magnetic stimulation (TMS) as a participant for a group member’s study on brain function and speech perception. The group members that worked in the fMRI lab also took some time out to show me the machines and explain how they analyse scans. My major endeavour investigated and compared speech perception in fluent speakers and people who stutter. For this experiment, I prepared auditory and visual stimuli, which was presented at the British Stammering Association’s Open Day in London. My mentor also guided me through the process of analysis and interpretation of results. Near the end of my internship, I presented the results at one of the regular lab meetings and wrote a journal article-style report about the experiment.

The good things: There are many different aspects of researching language in the brain, and I am glad I was able to learn about several different focus points. I gained insight into the life of a researcher, felt the excitement and pride of running an experiment program I had written myself, and experienced what Oxford had to offer. The research team was absolutely amazing and very willing to guide my thoughts and answer any questions I had. As a team member, I was able to contribute to the group in various ways. It was gratifying to know that my efforts and contributions were considered and appreciated on an equivalent level to the rest of the group, rather than as a mere student looking for something to fill her time. The group made every effort to include me in their activities, both inside and outside of the lab. Oxford’s campus is also quite majestic and I enjoyed walking through the University Parks every day on the way to work.

The bad things: Changing from a student schedule to a job that kept me busy 9-5 was a big change. I felt tired at the end of the day, and even the pleasant walk back to my accommodation did little to boost my spirits, especially if the day had been mentally taxing. If you think you want to do research, be prepared to be sitting at a desk for several hours. Not every day will be filled with an epiphany, and many hours will be spent rewriting the script for your experiment.

Anything else we should know: Sometimes I feel like the things I am learning in class are not going to be very useful in my career. However, there were several points during the internship when I realised that I was actually using skills that I had been taught, such as using a speech analysis program or understanding the reasoning behind a research question. Doing a research internship like this also helped me develop critical reading skills, which are useful for reading journal articles. Reading scientific literature probably takes up about 75% of a researcher’s job. Before I interned at Oxford, I read articles for class but was not really guided on how to glean the appropriate information from it. Reading papers is a skill that must be practised, and I learned how to use information from previous papers to complete special analyses on my data. Finally, while I was in Oxford, the International Multi-Sensory Research Forum held a conference in the building in which I worked. My mentors encouraged me to attend and listen to various talks on the subject of sensation and perception, which was a huge benefit and offered insight into ideas for future projects. If there is anything you have read from this you would like to know more about, feel free to email me at: shylahossain@gmail.com

Voluntary Position – Volunteer at the Bilingualism Summer School 2012 – Bangor University

Contributor: Callum

What? Volunteer for the Bilingualism Summer School at Bangor (University) 2012.

Why did you choose this place? My reason to assist with the Summer School was down to th experience it would give me, the Summer School had top names in the field of Bilingualism travelling into Bangor and this is something of which I wanted to be part. Names such as, Fred Genesee, Cheryl Frenck-Mestre, Ofelia Garcia, and Bonnie D. Schwartz were to attend, amongst many other experts in bilingualism research.

How did you find the application process? The application process was very easy, by this I mean there were no forms, or references to go around retrieving, Patrick Rebuschat (Summer School co-ordinator) asked students from the School of English Language and Linguistics to help with volunteering, we had around twelve or so helping which was around enough.

What do you do here? Throughout the two weeks of the Summer School the job of the volunteers was to make sure everything ran smoothly, and that visiting guests were content. Being more specific, these duties included helping lecturers set up their classes, escorting guests to lecture rooms, and taking them for lunch post-lectures, assisting with the set-up of events for keynote speeches and poster sessions. Furthermore, a top friend and I were asked to help a partially sighted student for the duration of the Summer School. As you may suspect, we aided this student around, making sure to keep her safe, though we did have her guide dog on hand also! This alone was an entirely new experience for both Fay (aforementioned friend) and I, but we both were able to make a new friend! Agata (said partially sighted student) remarked later that our assistance and care had made her stay in Bangor a very enjoyable one. So that was a very nice reward from the Summer School! The good things: Overall the Summer School was a great thing to have participated in; volunteering meant getting the tuition for next to nothing. Granted we couldn’t attend all advertised lectures, as we had to be in other places helping out and such. However, not just myself, but the rest of the volunteers did a great job, so it all balances out! All the same, to have been able to interact with a whole host of new people, from a vast range of different backgrounds all to unite and discuss and share ideas about bilingualism was a very worthwhile thing indeed! Though some of the talk at the pub may have sometimes strayed away from this, ha.

The bad things: If I’m honest, the schedule for the day was a little packed, which did result in long days, and if you add getting up at eight in the morning it made for a lot of tired people. Though it must be said it was the first time that this Summer School has been run at Bangor, so timing of the day may be altered for any future Summer Schools…that or I simply do not have the stamina to last a long day.

Anything else we should know: One additional thing I feel is worth mentioning is that early into week one I created a Facebook and Twitter page (though the latter was not a great success) to bring everyone together and to keep guests informed of events and ongoings throughout the two weeks. The Facebook page proved quite the success; as people made friends on Facebook as they do and can stay in contact with people they may have otherwise not had chance to see again.

Second noteworthy thing was that I was able to present my BA dissertation at one of the poster sessions, this was quite a unique opportunity that presented itself and I am very happy that I took it! Though my throat became hoarse from all the explaining that needed to be done, I was very proud to be presenting in the same room as people older than myself who had more years of experience in linguistics/ bilingualism.

Final thing to inform you of was that the second day of the Summer School was in fact my graduation from Bangor University (Linguistics BA; 2;1 for the record) safe to say I was unable to help out with most of the events on this day!

— If there is anything you have read from this you would like to know more about, feel free to email me at, callumrobsonsu@hotmail.co.uk, all the same you are very welcome to tweet me @CallumRobson

Graduate Teaching Assistant in Linguistics – Salford University

Contributor: Rebecca

Where? Salford University Linguistics Department

What? Graduate Teaching Assistant in Linguistics. I prepare and facilitate linguistics seminars in pragmatics and syntax for linguistics undergraduates. I do this while I study for my PhD in pragmatics. The university pays fees for GTAs doing a PhD, and pays – in some cases – a generous stipend for living costs to allow you to focus on teaching and on writing your thesis.

Why did you choose this place? I did my undergraduate degree at Salford University, and I had a very supportive and enriching experience there. I decided I’d like to stay on to pay some of that forward to the undergraduates. It’s a supportive and close-knit department that we have at Salford, and I thought it would be nice to learn to be an academic there – which is effectively what being a GTA allows you to do.

How did you find the application process? The application process was fairly straightforward. You just have to write a cover letter and do a PhD proposal, and fill out some forms, and go to an interview. I would say, though, that the point of these GTA positions is that you don’t have to work outside of academia in a fairly mundane and low-level job which is so you can focus on your PhD and learning how to teach in higher education. Therefore you have to have an excellent research proposal with good data and novel ideas because, these days, universities only give funding to original and interesting research. The interview was the hardest part of the process for me as I was very nervous but if you are just yourself and know your proposal inside out, you stand a chance!

What do you do here? I work with our undergraduate students in seminars. My department are very supportive and although they do give me preferred ‘work’ that the students should do in a seminar, I can often come up with my own work, and am always allowed to organise the seminars as I see fit. This means I can design lots of fun teaching interventions. I also do some marking and some exam invigilation and I enjoy helping out with open days so that we can attract even more students to our department. Sometimes, I meet with students for tutorials to discuss their work and offer tips and tricks about how they might improve. I feel that the GTA role is allowing me to train to be what I want to be one day – a lecturer and researcher in linguistics!

The good things? The students! I love working with undergraduates. They have great ideas and can often help you with your own research by talking to you about it from new angles. I also enjoy the ‘supported freedom’ I have in creating my own seminars and teaching materials. Plus, I get to ‘do’ linguistics all day long – what’s not to like?

The bad things? In term time, your teaching and preparation often has to come before your thesis. So excellent time management is essential. But this job is training you for what it’s like to work in academia, so this is realistic – sadly – for higher education these days. Know what you’re getting into.

Anything else we should know? If you think you would like to be a GTA to get money and experience while doing your linguistics PhD, you’ll need to see if your university has a scheme, or google other UK universities that do. For maximum chances of success, make sure your PhD proposal is convincing and well-written, and do be sure to evidence any teaching-related experience in your cover letter.

Work Placement – Research Assistant

Contributor: Stacey
Where? The Full English, Clifton, Bristol
What? Research Assistant for English language academics
Why did you choose this place? The activities of the company suited my skills and interests
How did you find the application process? Very straight forward: sent in my CV and cover letter after coming across an ad for the job position on my university’s job mailing list. Was invited for interview and then offered the position.
What do you do here? I mainly prepare research documents for projects relating to English academia. This includes: data entry in spreadsheets and databases; sourcing project data, books and journal articles; maintaining records; preparing bibliographies, indexes and references; developing online questionnaires; proofreading research papers and articles; writing copy for marketing materials and setting up online booking systems.
 
The good things: My employers are fantastic – they are incredibly flexible in terms of working your hours around uni life, they are interested in helping young people and therefore they constantly look for opportunities to help guide you in your future career path and they have a unilateral managerial approach meaning that they ask for your input when considering how to improve the company or run things better. The fact that it’s a micro company means that you’re given a lot of responsibility and gain a great deal of experience.
The bad things: Some tasks can be a little dull but then again the good working environment makes up for it. No full time work prospects within the company itself.
Anything else we should know: This position really compliments your studies especially if you are studying subjects such as English/Linguistics/Languages/Journalism/Media etc.