Claire Bowern receives Graduate Mentor Award

July 3, 2018

Professor Claire Bowern received the Graduate School of Arts and Science’s (GSAS) Graduate Mentor Award during Yale University’s Commencement Convocation ceremony in May. The award, given by the GSAS Dean’s Office based on student nomination letters, “honors faculty members at Convocation for their exemplary qualities as mentors.” Three faculty members receive the award each year: one from the humanities, one from the natural sciences, and one from the social sciences.

As Director of Graduate Studies, Claire provides mentorship to all graduate students in the Department of Linguistics. While graduate students are known to work closely on research projects with their advisors, labs, and dissertation committees, joining the academic profession requires that students master a variety of skills outside the classroom. Throughout the year, Claire leads seminars that help graduate students navigate publishing their work, applying to academic and non-academic jobs, and establishing and maintaining standards of professional conduct.

As a linguist, Claire is one of the leading scholars in her field, known for her research on the aboriginal languages of Australia. Claire directs the Pama-Nyungan Laboratory and the Reading Group for Language Contact and Historical Linguistics at Yale, engaging members of the Department at all levels in collaborative projects that feature innovative approaches to questions of language documentation and analysis. Many students in the Department work directly with Claire, who has advised dissertations, qualifying papers, and undergraduate senior theses.

Outside of her official responsibilities, Claire is fully engaged in the academic community through her efforts in outreach and activism. Claire has worked to expand interest in linguistics by writing and speaking about language for the general public. She is also devoted to promoting diversity both in the academy and in language communities through her roles as Chair of Yale’s Women Faculty Forum and Vice President of the Endangered Language Fund.

Claire was invited to give a speech at Convocation in honor of her award. She was joined on the stage by Associate Professor Crystal Feimster of the Departments of African American Studies, History, and American Studies and Associate Professor Valentina Greco of the Departments of Genetics, Dermatology, and Cell Biology, who were chosen for the award from among the humanities and natural science nominees, respectively. The Convocation ceremony program featured the following anonymous comments about Claire from her students.

  • It’s fair to say that Claire is the heart of our department. Despite being the most “famous professor” in linguistics and an incredibly productive researcher, she sustains a quantity of advising and mentorship far beyond anyone else I have seen at Yale.
  • Claire has emerged as a leader in the field: advocating on issues like maximizing inclusion of underrepresented groups, the elaboration of codes of responsible conduct, and working on the field’s acknowledgement of community linguists. All of these have had transformative effects on the field of Linguistics.
  • Through work in her lab, I’ve learned new approaches and been part of projects that have made me a better scholar and a more competitive applicant for the academic market. Throughout my time at Yale she has read drafts of everything from papers to grant applications and helped me to hone my arguments and clarify my thinking at each step along the path toward my degree.

More details about this year’s Graduate Mentor Award, including overviews of the other two winners, are available on the GSAS website. Congratulations Claire on this well-deserved honor!

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