Student Experiences

Find out how some of our Linguistics Majors have spent part of their summers over the past few years.

Here are some  brief summaries of their experiences:

Kento Tanaka

I spent the summer of 2018 doing phonology/syntax research at the University of Hong Kong under Professor Joe Perry. The project involved documentation of Gurung, a Sino-Tibetan language spoken in Nepal. We were specifically interested in the relationship between tone sandhi processes and syntactic boundaries. However, my progress was slower than expected, so we spent most of the summer first trying to determine the tone categories present in Gurung without moving on to much else. In day-to-day life, I spent most of my time reading prior literature and preparing for elicitation sessions. Due to other constraints, I met with native Gurung speakers only for the latter part of the summer, which was less than I initially hoped.

I decided to go to HKU because I was interested in spending time away from Yale and outside the United States, and because I was looking for opportunities that more closely fit my interests (in this case, tone and phonology-syntax interface). I enjoyed being in a completely new environment and learned a lot from being in Hong Kong in general. I was also able to formulate a project with Prof. Perry that was interesting to me (he recommended the language and directions in which I could take the research, and we discussed from there), and I had a lot of control over my own time.

However, it took more logistic balancing to find a professor and an institution that would take a random student over the summer, apply for funding, and arrange housing and other logistics of being abroad (especially since I had never been to Hong Kong). I was fully funded by the Robert C. Bates Summer Research Fellowship, but definitely look through CIPE for funding that fits your specific project. Also, when communicating with professors outside Yale, it is important to be clear and open about what your expectations are in terms of research and other arrangements (but Prof. Perry was great in this regard). Other potential drawbacks to choosing your own summer project would be that the amount you accomplish can be limited without adequate time and institutional support. Also, it may be difficult to continue your project long term and bring it back to Yale.

If you are interested in finding independent summer research options, I would recommend starting early and asking Yale faculty to introduce you to people whose research interests align your own. Also, keep ahead of Yale deadlines for receiving funding and getting your research approved. Overall, I had a positive experience, so as long as you are willing to take the leap I would definitely recommend trying to do research outside of more structured programs and internships.

Katie Martin

In the summer of 2017, I worked part-time as a research assistant at Boston University’s Phonetics, Multilingualism and Acquisition lab. Although I had an unpaid position, there are also paid RA positions if you apply earlier in the year than I did! I worked on a research project headed by Dr. Charles Chang, on Southeastern Pomo, an endangered language of California, and other student RAs worked on projects involving Korean-English bilingual children’s phonological perceptions and Asian-American sociolinguistics. Mostly, I annotated Southeastern Pomo elicitations using Praat, but the lab also had RAs finding study participants and collecting data.

Will Merrill

I spent the summer of 2017 as a full-time intern at the the Language Learning Lab at Boston College. The program lasted ten weeks, and I received a $4000 stipend. There were six other college-age interns in the lab, and most of the interns were working together on team projects, although I was assigned a project where I was the only intern working under a senior lab member. Still, it was nice being able to work with other students and there were plenty of lab social events where we were able to hang out together.

In general, the lab investigates questions related to language acquisition through the lens of developmental psychology. They aim to do this via experiments that collect large amounts of data on the internet. For example, they run a word game website that collects quiz scores and demographic information from millions of participants, and they have built models from this data to determine the critical period for native language acquisition (i.e. at what age you stop being able to acquire a language natively).

Most of the projects at the lab involve some degree of data analysis and programming, and developing familiarity with these technical skills is a major goal of the internship program. Since I had prior experience with machine learning and natural language processing, the project I was assigned to focused on building neural network models that take a second-language essay as input and try to diagnose fluency and native language of the author. This task was relevant to some of the online experiments investigating language acquisition, and the lab had also received a grant from BC to use it for language placement in their Spanish department.

The project I worked on is still ongoing (and probably will be for the foreseeable future). I know that a BC student took over my portion of the work during the fall of 2017, and I imagine there will be room for other interns to work on it next summer. While programming experience is definitely not a prerequisite of the internship program, I think that the Language Learning Lab is a pretty good place to go if you want to be able to work on a project where you will code. More specifically, there is a lot of opportunity to apply existing machine learning methods to research problems in linguistics. With that being said, I should stress that the lab is using machine learning as a tool for research; they are not aiming to do machine learning research per se.

Margaret Kandel

During the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to work as a research affiliate at the University of Maryland through the CASL Language Sciences Summer Scholarship program.  I was paired with projects at UMD’s Language Science Center and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language (CNL) Lab.

At the Language Science Center, I was involved in the preparations for the launch of the online Langscape portal, a linguistic database inherited by the University of Maryland from CASL that was made available as a public-domain resource this past fall (  My responsibilities included designing and authoring a K-12 Teacher’s Manual to the site, using the Langscape data to develop materials for a demo online language-learning program in Kituba through Transparent Language Online, working with the web developer to improve site usability and design, composing text for the demo site, recording demo videos for a presentation at the 2014 ACL conference, as well as researching potential collaborators and copyright information.

At the CNL Lab, I was involved with two psycholinguistic studies.  The first investigated how native English speakers process wh-dependencies and resumptive pronouns.  I helped execute an online sentence-completion task aiming to reveal if a resumptive pronoun within a syntactic island can be used to satisfy a gap dependency.  I worked with my supervisors to develop the experimental materials used in the study, set up the experiment online, devise a coding schema to analyze the results, and code the results.

The second study examined the theory of indirect learning as a language acquisition strategy using the That-trace Effect as a case study.  I annotated the relevant syntactic forms in several corpora of Italian child-directed speech that were then compared to corpora of English and Spanish child-directed speech to ascertain if there is enough evidence in a child’s linguistic input to determine whether or not their language displays the effect.

Tom McCoy

For the past two summers (2013 and 2014), I have worked full time at the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. I am from Pittsburgh, so working at Carnegie Mellon allowed me to spend the summer at home while still doing something productive. I enjoyed this arrangement quite a bit; it gave me an interesting and enjoyable job, and there were virtually no living expenses since I lived at home.

During both summers, my projects focused on making computational tools for under-resourced languages (i.e., languages that have a fair number of speakers but that do not have many linguistic resources available). In the first summer I developed a finite state transducer to serve as a morphological analyzer for Kinyarwanda, and in the second summer I worked on a tree-to-string transducer to transduce English parse trees to Malagasy sentences.

These experiences were not part of any specific program; rather, once I had decided that I would like a linguistics-related job close to home, I simply asked around to find professors who would hire me. I highly recommend this method to anyone else who wants to do something with linguistics over the summer but who also wants to stay at home with family.  The specifics of the experience may vary with regards to features like wages and office space, but many professors at many universities will be eager to take on summer workers.

One way to find an employer is to ask your Yale professors if they can put you in touch with any colleagues at the university of your choice. Even if none of your Yale professors have acquaintances at the school where you want to work, you can still try emailing professors directly. Relatively few undergrads are applying for summer jobs in linguistics, so most professors will be thrilled to hear from people interested in coming to work for them.

Phoebe Gaston

In summer 2012 I participated in the University of Michigan’s Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), which is an eight week, fully funded, intensive research experience meant to serve as preparation for graduate school. I was paired with a faculty mentor who was the director of the Language and Literacy Lab in the Department of Psychology, and spent my 8 weeks as an intern in that lab. The purpose of the program is to have interns not only assist with the daily workings of the lab but also to develop and execute their own research project. I helped design working memory and language localizer tasks for a new fNIRS study on child bilingualism, assisted with behavioral testing and scoring and database work, and helped work toestablish experimental protocols for a new fNIRS lab at UM’s Center for Human Growth and Development. SROP also requires you to attend weekly seminars on the graduate school application process and preparing for professional life, and pays for you to take a Kaplan GRE prep course while you’re in Ann Arbor.

Here is the University of Michigan’s Summer Research Opportunity Program website.

Hannah LaPalombara

In summer 2012, I spent eight weeks doing linguistic research in Kununurra, a small outback town in Western Australia. I received funding from Yale fellowships to volunteer at Kununurra’s language center, Mirima Dawang Woorlabgerring Language and Culture Centre (MDWg). The linguists and language workers at MDWg focus on the documentation, preservation, and instruction of two closely related indigenous Australian languages, Miriwoong and Gajirrabeng. My tasks at MDWg included analyzing older recordings of Garjirrabeng speakers, assisting Aboriginal language workers with writing and editing Miriwoong texts for publication, recording speakers while out in the field, and helping create lesson plans for Mirwoong languageclasses. I also developed an individual research project on the local creole language, Kimberley Kriol. I worked with Aboriginal subjects to make a series of recordings of Kriol, which I brought back with me to use for future research. I was given the opportunity to work at MDWg through a friend and colleague of Associate Professor Claire Bowern, whose lab on indigenous Australian languages I have been working in for nearly two years. Although MDWg does not provide funding for the position, they are always looking for more volunteers. Their website can be found here:

A description of fellowships offered by Yale can be found on the Yale Office of Fellowship Programs (OFP) website.

Zach Maher

I spent the summer of 2012 as a full-time intern at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, which is an organization that fosters collaboration of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, mostly inthe fields of psychology, computer science, and linguistics. The program lasted eight weeks, and I received a $4000 stipend, in addition to free housing and $600/month for food. Everyone is paired with a faculty mentor from CMU or Pitt and generally works more directly with a graduate student or post-doc. All of the work is at least tangentially related to education, and I was placed at Charles Perfetti’s Psychology of Reading lab, where I helped to develop an experiment to tease apart semantic, phonological, and orthographic processing in reading. Other students in the program had assignments related to second language acquisition, natural language processing, and use of “virtual peer” tutors who code-switch between African-American English and “Standard” English. We also attended weekly seminars where different work in the science of learning was presented and had a poster session at the end of our time. I should note that while I had the chance to contribute conceptually to the project, many of the interns were assigned more mundane tasks like designing stimuli, running subjects, and analyzing data that had already been collected.

More information can be found at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center website.

Also, in looking for opportunities, I recommend, which is where I discovered this internship.

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Any questions about the undergraduate program can be directed to the DUS below.