Embracing Change- a Reflection on my Research Thus Far

As I near the end of my third week of research, it seems as good a time as ever to discuss my project, how it has changed, as well the personal challenges that I have faced. Spoiler alert: there have been a lot of challenges.

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As I near the end of my third week of research, this seems to be as good a time as any to reflect on what has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, despite all of the stress and uncertainty caused by Covid-19. When I originally proposed my linguistics study as part of my application for this scholarship, I felt secure. Safe. True, the use of electromagnetic articulography equipment would have posed a giant barrier in the form of ethical clearance even before a pandemic happened, but this research was in the works months before Coronavirus became as substantial and influential as it is today. The research area and equipment was new and exciting, I would have learned a whole new way of interpreting data which undergraduates would never be able to do here. It was an amazing opportunity which sadly was not able to come to fruition.

With the announcement of lockdown (and thus the closure of labs) in March, I had no idea how much my project was going to have to change. It turns out that sticking sensor coils into people's mouths is a definite no-go during a global health crisis! I had to put my dreams of lab work aside and learn how to improvise. There was only a short time to come up with a new proposal and a lot of things to cover. Here is what happened.

So, what has changed?

Despite having rather bold hopes about lab usage, myself and many other scholars in England will know that it simply was not possible to get on campus.  My project, therefore, became entirely web-based, with my once ambitious recording study turning into a survey. I am now investigating the perception of rare and unattested phonemes through Qualtrics, which is honestly some really great software for data collection. There was no research proposal for this. I had more or less a week to come up with the idea. And you know what? I still feel like my research is impactful, relevant, and building on the literature in my field. That is definitely something to be proud of.

How has this affected my journey thus far?

I have to admit that the past three weeks have been full of uncertainty. Until the end of week 3 (Friday 24th July) I had no clue if the full study could go ahead at all. There had already been one major change within my research period (changing from a production to a perception study). I got 1000 words into one paper before having to start from scratch and get back up to 1000 words again with entirely new background reading. At times, it felt very fatalistic, like this virus that is completely out of my control was going to wreck it all. I had to start coming up with contingency plans halfway through my research period, it is only by some miracle and the hard work of so so many people that I am able to go ahead with my perception study and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

My mental fortitude has certainly been tested- creating a study without a research proposal was a terrifying prospect that I am surprised I made it out of! There were obviously some bad days with a complete lack of direction as well. However, I am pleased to say that I am around 1500 words into my new paper, have all of the recordings I need and am set to launch my survey this week. This has certainly been a difficult time, but it has helped to show that no matter what you do, there is definitely potential to come out of the other side. You've got this.

What now?

Since there are only three weeks of research left, I really just need to go for it. The library at York reopens tomorrow, which is a blessing for new study space too! I will primarily be doing background reading for my new methodology and creating my survey ready to launch. In my week of data collection, I will be brushing up on my R ahead of the statistical analysis at the end.

I hope that by the end of this project I would have made a difference, both in the professional and personal realms. Any addition I could make to the field of phonetics would be amazing, with the professional support and qualifications provided by this scholarship being super important as well. On the other hand, I want to see myself grow. A consistent work schedule has been completely foreign to me until now and there is so much about myself that I continue to learn every day. You don't improve by staying the same so I intend to keep going and challenging myself for as long as humanly possible, even if that means learning to relax as well as work.

I hope that everyone else's projects are going well and I can't wait to see how they turn out :)

Photo banner credit: The International Phonetic Association

Catherine Brislane

Subject Lead/ Undergraduate Scholar, University of York

I am a second-year undergraduate scholar pursuing a BA in English Literature and Linguistics. Besides being a scholar, I am the 2020-21 Arts and Humanities faculty rep at the University of York! My research is based in phonetics, entitled 'The untapped potential of human language: Investigating the perception of typologically unattested and rare sounds'. In it, I get to look at phonemes that are not commonly found in speech, if at all!

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