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Good News for People Who Love Good News

Namely, me.

It’s been a rather busy quarter so far, but we’ve just now reached the midway point.  I’ve had some kind of massively successful day.  These are my favorite sort – the kind where you wake up thinking to yourself that it’s going to be a rough day, and then you just nail everything as the day goes.  Perfect performance in all realms.  I feel like I’m being an accommodating, thorough individual and life is repaying me by letting me make a good impression on people and do a decent job at the things I care about.

I recorded stimuli for a creolization project this morning.  It was a little like an IPA pop quiz, and I was doing it as a favor for a buddy of mine and a professor whose class I’m taking next quarter.  Wanted to do a good job, and it seems as though it went just fine.  Recorded each set 10 times, and wasn’t asked to redo anything.  Only little mishap was that my head is producing some ridiculous clicking noise, which sometimes happens to me.  I think it might be when I’m getting sick or something, my nasal cavity increases in pressure when I’ve closed my velum and it makes my ears pop.  I had noticed this a while ago and thought it was just something I could only hear in my own skull, but apparently it’s loud enough to get picked up on the microphone and disturb my recording a little.  I think they can edit it out, but it’s a little embarrassing to have a head which pops and cracks of its own volition!

After that I headed to the lab to meet with my advisor for the first time in two weeks.  We had a really good meeting, very relaxed and pleasant, and on top of that, also productive.  He seemed impressed with the work I had been doing while he was out of town, and I’ve gotten the go-ahead on the design I came up with in his absence.  Furthermore, he’s been talking about me to more famous psycholinguist types, and had a discussion about phonemic adaptation with Greg Hickok!  Apparently Hickok has been working on a phonological adaptation experiment as well, but with whole phonemes instead of features.  I’m not sure what the status of his project is now since researchers are generally pretty close-lipped about work before it gets published, but it sounds like he did find some effects which is incredibly encouraging for our study!  I think it also made my advisor happy to see that famousy psycholinguist types are also doing work in our area and, to quote him, “the field is still wide open”.   Anyway, we tooled around with our experiment design and landed on a scheme we like, so I’m at the point where I’m ready to record some stimulus and start putting things together to prepare for our first pilot runs in the MRI.   Whoohoo!

In a related note, I also ran in to my advisor’s wife (who also works at the center) and she had some very nice things to say about me.  I’ve never really met her before, but she stopped in an office I was in to see who I was and tell me that she edited the letter of rec that my advisor wrote for me and was very impressed with me.  She was being a little jokey about it, but it’s nice to hear someone say, even jocularly, that I’m an impressive person and that she was hoping they’d be able to keep me around in the lab because what I do is very cool.  If that’s the content of my advisor’s letter of rec, I feel like I’m in rather good hands.   It’s the back-door equivalent of having someone stop you and tell you that your advisor has been talking about how great you are.  Many yays for that!

Speaking of people speaking well of me, I also got into a little snafu over my assignments next quarter.  Apparently I had been assigned to be a reader for the historical linguistics class that Lewis’ advisor is teaching, and that he had specifically requested me.  Unfortunately, my advisor was also hoping to give me a graduate student research position in the lab (ie, no TAing-type work, only research work you actually get paid for, as opposed to all the research I’m doing anyway but not getting paid for).  I hadn’t meant for this to be a surprise for the department, since I presumed it was being communicated to people that this spring was my ‘free’ quarter, which the fellowship I won last year allowed me to have.  Turns out, there is no ‘free’ quarter since they can’t afford my fees if I don’t work and they had given my a job without telling me.  Needless to say, my department chair wasn’t really happy to hear I thought I was going to be a researcher not a reader, and it was a bit of a debacle.  At any rate, he called my advisor while we were meeting and last I heard was he had backed down from saying I needed to do this readership and told me advisor ‘we should do whatever is best for Laurie’.  That’s a very good place to be, even if it’s causing the department some strife.  I’m not sure what the final outcome is going to be, but it sounds like one way or the other, I’ll get that research position, even if I have to do both jobs.  Which would, on the bright side, be a decent amount of money!

Last, and I suppose least, I think we also finally picked a project for our phonetics paper, and it’s something I’m actually surprisingly interested in.  It’s going to be a very short paper which is only an experimental design, and I’m coauthoring it with two of my best friends in my cohort.  Yes, that does compute to something like 1.5 pages each.  I’m really looking forward to that, especially given the frustrating next week I’m potentially having in my psychology class.  I got my presentation moved up a week by surprise, and I’ve got a rough draft of that paper due the same day.  I’ll get it done.  I’m feeling so on top of the world right now.


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!

gibby gibby

I’m one exhausted but satisfied Laurie!

Met our professor this morning at 7:30 and made it to Stanford in two hours flat.  Stanford is a really nice looking school in a very pleasant little town.  The conference itself was really enjoyable.  The talks were nice, the company was good, the food was tasty, and we met lots of interesting people.  Got a ride back to Oakland and took the train home from there.  All in all, a really enjoyable day.

Perhaps I’ll have more to digest from it in the next day or two, but right now, I’m just so tuckered out and ready for bed.

LSA / My eyes explode

Well, I’ve been in the Bay Area the last few days, putting in my part of the grunt work at the LSA annual conference.  Not feeling like the conference was much of consequence, so suffice it to say that I didn’t see much in terms of content.  I was scheduled to work during most the things I would have wanted to see, and managed to miss (through my own poor planning) the only talk I had intended on catching, by an old advisor of mine.  Oh well.  The real plus of the whole thing was getting to meet some new friends from other schools, hang out with the Davis crew, and see lots of folks I haven’t seen in ages!  I feel well socialized.  I even had one of the professors from Davis bring a famous linguist-guy over to to introduce me and told him about what a great project (my Russian variation paper) I did and how promising I was.  I’m rather flattered, though that’s not my field or direction.

What was of great note from the last two days are two different things.  First of all, Lewis and I were staying with Nina and Jimmy, and it was really awesome to see them and get to hang out.  It’s always so nice to get to stay with friends!  Especially ones you don’t get to see as often as you’d like.  But even better, Nina had an appointment to try on some wedding dresses this morning, and asked me to come with her!  It was great to get to help out with some of the wedding stuff, since I’m not positive we’re going to make it to New York later this year (though we’ll try out best!) and it’s always nice to be able to offer a sturdy shoulder and meagre advice.   I was so happy to oblige!

My other weirder and less-cool news of the weekend is that I had an occular migraine (without accompanying headache) in the middle of one of the few talks I was able to attend.  It was supremely weird, since I’ve never had one before.  Started as a little smudge in one part of my vision, something like having stared at something really bright for too long, but more smooshy than bright.  Anyway, it expanded to a sort of semi-circle before too long and at times completely obscured my peripherial vision on one side.  It was in both eyes, so it wasn’t an eye thing… anyway, I paniced and bailed out of the talk as soon as it was acceptable to do so.  Ran up to where Lewis was on duty, and he thought it sounded like an ocular migraine, which his mom used to get.  A phone call to the UCD advice nurse on duty assured me I wasn’t in dire trouble (though she said they “didn’t do eyes” so she couldn’t tell me much else).  I talked to Francie for a while and she really calmed me down and made me feel pretty sure that’s what had happened, though I’m gonna hit up an eye doctor in short order to rule out everything else.  Poking around on the internet this evening seems to pretty much confirm it.  I even found little diagrams that look almost exactly like what I saw, so it’s pretty suggestive.  Anyway.. I’m slightly unnearved, but thankful it seems to be nothing more serious than perhaps too much stress, too little sleep, and a little bad luck.  And no head ache, thank goodness.

All in all, a pretty successful couple of days!  January marches on.  I have a big week ahead of me, and then my sister will be here!  Yay!