Looking Back

So I don’t have pictures of my finished books yes, mainly because I’ve been super busy (I spent July in Louisiana studying a Native American language, and split my time in August between interning at Swem and my work at the bookstore). But I have got enough distance from the experience to be able to look back on it more objectively. I’ve been shifting through my experiences, and come up with a few key points that even someone not interested in handbinding per se can really take away.

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Surprises…good and bad

One of the best, and worst, things about doing research is the way that it can surprise you. I’ve had a couple big surprises in the last month or so:

1) Bad: My original experiment had to be completely scrapped. The analysis that I’d done on Mandarin was done first by Moira Yip. So it was back to the drawing board…on the plus side, she’s the world’s leading expert on tone in East Asian languages, so I’m not too upset. Starting my literature review over again in English set me back a good month, though.

2) Good: A very respectable linguistics lab can be fit in a tote bag. That’s a carotid condenser mic, stand, adapter/power source, cables, computer, consent forms, pens, a tape measure (to ensure subjects are a consistent distance from the mic), and headset. It still weighs less than ten pounds. All I need is a power source and a desk. Another plus? Excluding the computer, it cost less than $100 to outfit. I can’t imagine trying to put together a chemistry, physics or even psychology lab on that sort of budget.

3) Good: Every single piece of software I’ve used on this project, from the recorder (Audacity) and presentation software (RAM 4)  to the analysis software (Praat) and word processor (Open Office) has been free and open source.

4) Bad: It took me two and half hours to annotate just under three minutes of speech. (I’m isolating specific sounds, so it’s both labor intensive and unautomatable.) I have around thirty such snippets. This is going to take a while. I can really, really understand why professors have research assistants now. 🙂

5) Good: Why was I worried about finding a grad school? The more research I read, the more two or three institution names pop up again and again. Even better, the more one or two people pop up–people whose research is interesting, vital and in the field I want to go into. Hopefully, I’ll be doing grad work under one of them.

As you can see, the good outweighs the bad. Even better, I’m finding this out now, as an undergrad, rather than halfway through writing my master’s dissertation. The best part? The more research I do, the better I think I’m suited to it. The combination of tedious repetition and sudden insight is one I find comfortable and enjoyable.

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