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Just got back from a really great workshop our department hosted.  Or rather, the first half; the second half is tomorrow morning.  It’s a nice format, placing small blocks of speakers on one topic next to blocks of speakers from a very different topic, and then opening the floor for panel discussions in between.  The discussions have been really informative and through-provoking, and it’s great to see people interacting outside of their subfields and asking great big-picture questions.  The theme of the whole workshop is something like, “new methods of data analysis in applied linguistics” or some such, which is really just a way of saying “talks on quantitative stuff from a bunch of underrepresented subfields”.

Today we saw panels on cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging, and then one on translation, interpretation and second language corpora.  I wasn’t expecting to get much out of the latter, but it turned out to be surprisingly eye-opening, which I suppose is what the department was hoping us graduate students would get out of it.  They actually scheduled their speakers with us in mind (which I think is a really nice gesture), so almost everyone in our department is really excited about at least one talk.

The neuroscience panel certainly didn’t disappoint.  We saw a talk on eye-tracking and body movement, one on ERPs, and one on phoneme repair and fMRI.  The best part of these, for my future anyway, was hearing the regular “theoretical” professors talk at the cognitive guys and ask the kinds of questions I’m trying to ask and answer too:  what place does linguistic theory have in neuroscience?  Will neuroscience eventually replace linguistic theory as our models of brain and cognition grow more sophisticated?  What can we generalize from these blobs on the brain, anyway, and why should linguists care?  Why do these studies if they don’t increase our knowledge of linguistic structure, or give us a better processing model?  Lest it sound like I have no faith in my chosen future, I should point out the answer to these questions isn’t entirely damning.  There’s certainly a shake-up in the future of linguistics, and cognitive neuroscience seems to be the battlefield for this.   The panelists agreed that the future of this research is going to be graduate students who have both linguistics and neuroscience training, which is what I’m trying to do.  We need researchers who are conversant in both domains.    And I personally believe that fMRI and ERP have a lot they can tell us about processing models and linguistic storage and representation.  Besides,  it’s very good to know the kinds of questions the more philosophic and theoretically concerned members of our field have.

Having said that, it’s time to head over to the after-party, which is already in progress!

Today I found PhDComics.

Life so full of nebulous, ungraspable existance.  I want to condense it, and I can’t.  Life is good.  Slow moving, yet expedient… fulfilling and untenable.  Life is strange when you’re on the way to achieving your highest goal, which will nearly happen by default.  There are a lot of papers to write between here and there, but writing papers is what I do.  I write papers, I teach, and at my best, I sit in all the chairs I’m supposed to occupy at the right times and in the right places.  And after I do this enough times, someone gives me a Doctorate.  A Doctorate in Being Places One Ought.  My letters of rec will say, “writes papers on any topic”.  “Follows directions well”.  “Seems to know what she’s doing”.  I’ve got direction, even if I don’t know what it is.  Convincing enough direction that people give me research grants before I have a project to spend them on.  I simultaneously worry about the day-to-day details way more than I should, but feel very relaxed and at home with the Big Picture.  I guess that’s probably good.