April update

Hello one and all! We’re at the end of the Easter break which means I’m now two terms into my MA year at CASS. My thesis deadline approaches in mid-August and there is A LOT to do between now and then, but – for now – here’s a recap of what’s being going on since my last update in January.

Recent project happenings

After spending most of the festive season surrounded by wrestling metaphors, concordances about Muslims, and sociolinguistics it was great to get the feedback from my first term MA modules. I came out with two distinctions and a merit which meant I officially qualified to transfer to the “MA by research” track. So in January I started work on my MA thesis which is, roughly speaking, an investigation into the methodological issues surrounding spoken corpus compilation. What it does mean is that recently I’ve been getting my family involved by handing them dictaphones and asking them to record each other’s conversations in all sorts of situations – can’t wait to hear the recordings back next week!

I’ve also been carrying on work looking at the press reaction to the May 2013 murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London. Recently we’ve started adding in the reaction to the story on Twitter, which started with a quick and dirty analysis a couple of months ago. On February 26th this year Lee Rigby’s killers were sentenced for their crime. The very next morning, I was writing an analysis of the immediate Twitter reaction to the sentencing and, by the lunchtime that day, it was published as a blog on the CASS website (co-authored with Tony McEnery and Stephen Wattam). It was certainly a fun morning of seeing how much could be found in a very short period of time.

Looking ahead to post-MA life, I ended up at Cambridge University Press last week to discuss a future project which I’m really excited about. One of the most important lessons I learned that day was to…

Wise words from Claire Dembry, Lancaster alumni.

Wise words from Cambridge University Press.

…courtesy of Claire Dembry, a former Lancastrian who made the move to Cambridge following her PhD. Looking forward to getting cracking with it soon!

Other tidbits

Aside from the research I’ve been doing recently it certainly feels like this has been the term for talks!

  • In February I plunged in at the deep end and gave my first 50 minute talk in the final LAEL Society meeting of the academic year. I split my talk between postgrad life in Lancaster as well as my MA work on the representation of Muslims in the initial Lee Rigby murder press reporting. I felt a little bit out of my depth talking for so long (and I suddenly realised how tiring it must be to give lectures potentially several times a day!) but it was great to give it a go and it seemed to go down well.
  • Next came, in fairly quick succession, three more tests in the form of presenting the same talk (the Lee Rigby work) three times in three very different settings. First came the Asia Pacific Corpus Linguistics Conference at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. The entire trip was, from beginning to end, a really, really positive experience and possibly the happiest time of the year so far (come to think of it I really should have given the Hong Kong trip a blog of its own…never mind!).
Doing my thing at the APCLC in Hong Kong.

Doing my thing at the APCLC in Hong Kong.


  • I then took the same talk to the UCREL corpus research seminar which I shared with another MA student, Adam O’Hara. What was great about this was that among the small audience for the session was Geoff Leech, whose career has spanned over five decades – no pressure then! I’m very grateful to him for coming to see our talks.
  • Finally I put the work on the Lee Rigby murder press reaction (as it was) to bed by presenting it for the final time at the Young Linguists’ Meeting in Poznan, Poland. Unlike the Hong Kong trip I did manage to write a blog about the Poland trip – check it out on the CASS website.

So it’s been a busy few weeks of talks but the experience of putting myself in those situations has been really valuable. Talking about your work succinctly and clearly is a really useful skill (if nothing else but to avoid boring the hell out of your family at Christmas…) so I know that the more I do it the easier it will get – and I’m keen to get as good as I can at this sort of thing.

More generally I think I can see things a lot more clearly than I could three months ago – the next term is much lighter in terms of weekly contact hours so I’ll have much more time to sit for full working days and make headway on my MA project. Aside from that I’m already looking ahead to life after the MA which I now know much more about than I did even a couple of weeks ago. At the moment at least, it’s looking exciting, challenging and stimulating.

I’ll be back soon as there’s always more to say. We’re quickly approaching the summer of conferences and I’m looking forward to making appearances at IVACS (in my hometown of Newcastle no less!) the 5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference and maybe even (fingers crossed) the LAEL postgrad conference in July.

Until then…keep calm…and use the corpus!

January Update

Hello! Now that we’re well into the new year I thought it was time for an update on the recent happenings in CASS-world. Today is the end of the first week of Term 2 as an MA student of Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University, as well as Research Student at CASS. As was evident last term I’ve had a healthy dose of both lives and it seems there’s plenty more to come in 2014.

Recent project happenings

In my mid-term update back in November I described the work I had started, and was planning to work on, to submit as my Term 1 MA assignments. I’m pleased to say that on the most part I stuck to my plans and deliberately worked on a diverse selection of linguistic research. I finished my corpus-assisted analysis of the press representation of Muslim people and Islam after the Woolwich attack in good time to get my metaphor in wrestling commentary paper completely finished before the Christmas holidays too. Dare I say the latter was a fun bit of work that required hours of watching and re-watching wrestling videos on YouTube as well as about a week of office time coding lines of data in a spreadsheet. I’m hoping that it paid off and showed that there’s more to pro-wrestling than necessarily meets the eye!

The only assignment which threw a curve-ball was my sociolinguistic plan to invade Lancaster’s coffee shops and listen to the ways in which people ordered drinks. It turned out to be too difficult to carry out properly in the time I had left over Christmas so I opted to start preparing for my MA dissertation by writing a bit of a sociolinguistically-informed design. Not quite as exciting as coffee but at least it’s given me a head start with thinking about the work I’ll be doing for the rest of the year.

Current happenings

After a lovely two week break at home in sunny Newcastle I got cracking on some more independent research with Tony for Muslim media awareness group iEngage. This time we were asked to look at the depiction of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the British press over the last five years. This was a much bigger task than the Woolwich research simply because of the much wider time span and, subsequently, much larger corpus. I was working with nearly 6 million words of press reports which was the most data I’ve worked with so far! Hopefully, like the last, the results will be useful to those who are interested in them.

Currently I’m starting to get into my MA dissertation work and reading up on all things corpus linguistics. I’m doing a double credit dissertation which means that, instead of doing another 3 modules for credit this term (like last term) I’m starting my dissertation now which will take me all the way through until mid-August. This is the largest single piece of work I’ve had to do so far and will surely be good preparation for the ever-looming PhD which I can now say I begin later this year! How things are moving so quickly.

Other tidbits

  • Just before Christmas I got to go back to my old high school to give a talk to the A-level English Language students there. It was great to go back and to chat to the students about their plans for their imminent departure from high school life. What was great to see was that they had covered a little bit about corpus linguistics in one of their lessons, which I certainly don’t remember from when I studied English Language there!
  •  The next day I was back in Lancaster to give a talk to some students at the Management School here at the University – I had been asked to talk about the process of writing a dissertation; however being from a completely different discipline I found myself saying very little about my own undergraduate dissertation and more generally about time management and stress reduction.

Overall it’s been nice to get stuck into a few different projects and feel like I’m developing more with everything I do. I think this term and especially, at this stage, the conference in Hong Kong, will be an early test of how I’m coming along with the transition towards being an independent researcher. I’m in quite a unique position at the moment in that I am straddling between the student life that I have known for the last three years at Lancaster and this new, more professionally oriented, lifestyle. I think that come next year I will be much more settled into this new role but I must be honest in saying for now it does all feel a little odd. I’m sure that as time goes on, and I get even busier in the world of corpus linguistics, things will feel a lot more clear.

Until next time!

Mid-term Update!

Hello! I’ve made it to the end of Week 5 which means I’m now half way through my first term as a postgrad student. Simply typing that is hard to believe since the last month has been so busy and, as you might expect, gone very quickly! Anyway I thought it was about time for a little update on what I’ve been up to since starting the MA in Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University.

Current happenings

In my last blog at the start of the term I mentioned the modules I’m taking this term, and now I’m very much under way with the research projects that I’ll be submitting for these modules around Christmas time. Each one has a 5,000 word limit, which is twice that of the kind of work I was doing during my undergraduate degree, but it is incredible how even a figure twice as large suddenly still feels like not enough for a really thorough bit of work. Originally I was going to do research based on topics that would help me prepare for my MA dissertation (and, eventually, PhD project) about spoken corpus collection methods…but then I decided to have a bit of fun and explore a few weird and wonderful ideas before I get lost in corpus design, ethics, transcription schemes and what not in the New Year.

  • For the module on Discourse Studies I’ve reached way back into my childhood and adolescent (and, admittedly, to an extent ongoing…) obsession with American professional wrestling, and more specifically the largest pro-wrestling company in the world, the WWE (formerly WWF until 2002 – yup, 11 years ago folks!).  I’m interested in the language of the commentators who develop the characters and build the storylines all while describing the performance that is taking place in the ring. I thought it might be interesting to transcribe a few matches and look at what kinds of metaphors the commentators use when they’re getting all excited about headlocks and dropkicks. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the presence of a least a thin layer of academic enquiry about some aspects of pro-wrestling, and particularly the quite incredible-looking Comparative Media course taught in 2007 at MIT!
  • For the Sociolinguistics module I just this week came up with an idea for a nice study involving Starbucks and the ways people order drinks. I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to pan out yet but there’s definitely something in the oven and I’m going to let myself treat this is a bit of an experiment while I’ve got the chance!
  • And for the Corpus Linguistics module I’m just about a day or two’s work away from finishing an analysis of the representations of Muslim people and Islam in the press during the aftermath of the Woolwich attack earlier this year. I’m already at finishing point for this one because I started work on this in my first week as an independent project for a media awareness group called iEngage. I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of it. The idea with this one in the long-term is to work with Tony to flesh this one out some more and try to get it published somewhere – exciting indeed!

I’m also ticking along with a bit of work for Amanda looking at comments on online newspaper articles – very interesting so far and certainly a valuable learning experience.

In other news…

So, what else have I been up to in the first few weeks of post grad life? To name a few…

  • The same-sex marriage paper I had been working on with Paul Baker over the summer has now been sent off to the journal and we are awaiting to hear back for whatever happens next at this stage! Fingers cross it goes down well enough to get published in the Spring next year.
  • For the “practice assignment” of the MA I submitted a short review of a study about doctor-patient interaction, which got a mark of 70. Nice to get off to a good start!
  • I recently had the pleasure of updating Geoffrey Leech‘s Wikipedia page for him. And yesterday I had my first chance to see him give a talk, at the UCREL corpus research group. What a great guy all round!
  • I’ve submitted a couple of abstracts for conferences that are taking place in the UK and (very much) beyond next year, so I’m hoping to hear some good news about those over the next couple of months.
  • I have also been invited to return to my high school, where I took my GCSEs and A Levels, to visit the A Level English Language class there and chat about all things uni and all things linguistics. I’m really looking forward to going back there just before the Christmas holidays and likely feeling very nostalgic and very old.

So as you can see it’s been a bit of a plunge into a very different way of working compared to what I was used to during my undergraduate degree. But I feel like I’m more or less keeping up with things so far and I’m sure the routine will only get easier as I get more and more into the different kinds of research I’m getting on with. I’ve already made friends with some wonderful new people on the MA course and I really love how diverse the cohort is. It’s great to hear about the very many different backgrounds and experiences that people have brought to the course and it feels like we’re all in it together to help each other through the year. So far, so good!

Postgrad Life Begins

Hello! Last week I got to reenact at least a little bit of my long-abandoned fresher lifestyle during my Intro Week as a new member of Graduate College. Today marks the first day of my studentship at CASS, and the first day of the next four years of my academic career! Though I’ve been working here for most of the summer anyway, I’m very excited to get back into a more lively routine by attending lectures, seminars and the like. This term I’ll be taking three MA courses in the Department of Linguistics and English Language:

Introduction to Discourse Studies,


and, surprise surprise,

Corpus Linguistics!

I’ll also be taking an MSc module in the Department of Psychology all about statistics (scary, I know!).

Whether I survive the stats or not, I’m preparing myself for a busy term of work not only on these modules but on the projects I’m still working on from the summer. Lots of writing and reading to be done!

A weekend in China: Boya Forum 2013 Conference

Hello! So I ended up in China over the weekend at Beijing Foreign Studies University to present at the 3rd annual Boya Forum 2013 undergradute conference. And what a weekend it was. Surreal is one of the best words to describe it, mainly because I was somewhere so far away for such a short amount of time (only 3 days). Luckily, I still had a little bit of time to explore, so I have split this blog into two sections: the academic experience and the confused tourist experience.

The academic experience

I was one of two students from Lancaster sent there to present at the event, which was hosted by BFSU’s School of English and International Studies. It aimed to celebrate the undergraduate research abilities of students in several disciplines from the arts and social sciences. The participants represented a total of 27 universities, and I was from one of only three universities from outside of China. The conference was an intense day of talks and discussions (70 presentations in total!) that ran from the early morning right through into the evening, and my talk was right at the end of the day so I knew I would have a job of trying to keep my audience’s attention. I’d like to think I managed to do it.

I never imagined I'd end up presenting my work so soon - let alone in China!

I never imagined I’d end up presenting my work so soon – let alone in China!

After my talk (slides available here) I was posed some really interesting questions about my work from both the professor who acted as “commentator” for the session and from other students in attendance. It was also really great to see four or five other presentations from Chinese students who had used corpus-based techniques in their research, and to be able to discuss how our approaches differ. It really seemed that there was a genuine interest in the application of corpus-based methods in the study of all manner of language data – I’m confident I was able to fly the flag for the field and demonstrate that it can be very useful.

At the end of the day there was a closing ceremony where the professors from BFSU awarded prizes for the best presentations of the conference. I was very happy to win a “First Prize for Best Presentation” award and an official BFSU jacket to match. I wore it proudly on the long journey back to Lancaster! Those of us who had travelled from abroad to make it there were also treated to a post-conference banquet in the BFSU Hotel. I wasn’t aware of the Chinese convention that if you leave an empty plate it means you are still hungry rather than full – so as a result more and more food kept appearing even after we started to look physically unwell for eating so much. It was all delicious though.

The winners of the "First Prize for Best Presentation" awards

The winners of the “First Prize for Best Presentation” awards

I have nothing but praise for the organisers of the conference – it really was a brilliant day and I feel so lucky to have been part of it. It certainly was a fantastic experience, and I am extremely grateful to CASS and BFSU for jointly funding my visit. I only wish I still counted as an “undergrad” next year to be able to go again!

(Check out the CASS website next week for a more detailed account of my experience at the Boya Forum 2013 conference).

The confused tourist experience

With the conference being held all within one day on the Saturday, I had time on Friday and Sunday to do a little bit of tourism. I have no idea when or if I will ever go back to Beijing so I wanted to make sure I saw the big sights while I was there. Unlike previous travel experiences where I have been with someone who speaks both English and the language our destination, I was very much alone as an English speaker in a predominantly monolingual, Mandarin city. What this meant was that travel by anything other than the subway (which translates Mandarin into Pinyin, the Roman alphabet equivalent), was a fairly interesting experience for someone who hadn’t learnt a word of Mandarin before his trip!

On Friday, after landing in Beijing very early in the morning, I had the whole day to myself before George, the other Lancaster student, arrived in the evening. After sleeping off a bit of jet-lag I headed to the Forbidden City, right in the heart of central Beijing. This is a massive, massive palace that housed emperors for hundreds of years, and for the last 80 years or so it’s been opened up as a museum. I was told that it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Beijing and it was pretty easy to get to by subway from the BFSU Hotel. So far so good!

I could see why it’s so popular as soon as I arrived. It really is an incredible place and its size certainly deserves the title of “city” – it’s huge! Unfortunately I timed my arrival badly, and once I had entered the main grounds (pictured below) I was told by a friendly looking tour guide that the main museum had actually just closed and that I couldn’t get in! Despite my disappointment I told him simply that I’d take a few photos of the outside and head somewhere else.


I hadn’t known that if I had simply turned around and crossed the road I would have also seen the incredible Tiananmen Square. Beijing – 1, confused tourist – 0.

The tour guide, though, had different ideas. He offered to take me on a one-to-one personal walking tour around the perimeter of the Forbidden City and up to Jingshan Park, said to offer great panoramic views of the Palace Museum and beyond. Usually I’d be very wary of “tour guides” who offer to take you away somewhere (and particularly because I was completely on my own!) but for some reason, perhaps my utter disorientation from the journey and being somewhere so different to Lancaster, I found myself quite happily agreeing. Luckily “Brian” was kosher and indeed he took my all the way up this hill for some spectacular views of the city. We even did a traditional tea-tasting ceremony (picture below) and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of the whole situation, so out of context from sitting in the CASS office a day earlier.

Traditional tea-tasting ceremony at Jingshan Park...a little on the expensive side but the tea really was great

Traditional tea-tasting ceremony at Jingshan Park…a little on the expensive side but the tea really was great.

Of course, being in a traditional tea shop in the middle of China’s capital, I felt I would have been doing a terrible injustice if I walked away empty handed. So I ended up picking up not one but three different kinds of tea. Probably enough to last months, if not years! Once I made it back to BFSU and met up with George we set up a make-shift brewing system in the hotel room and somehow managed to recreate some of the tastes I had experienced at the ceremony with Brian. A nice way to relax before our busy day at the conference on Saturday!

On Sunday, after a night out with a few of the American students who had also presented at the conference, a girl called Zayba and I decided we needed to tackle the Great Wall on our last day in Beijing. Everyone else had already left at this point so we were the last two left, and I would have felt cheated had I gone all the way to China and not “walked the wall” while I was there! The nearest tourist spot by the wall, Badaling, is about 50 miles or so north of the city, so we set off to the northernmost subway station with the plan of getting a taxi the rest of the journey north from there. Simple enough, or so it seemed. However our taxi driver had different plans, and dumped us in an empty car park by a very quiet portion of the wall on the way to Badaling, seemingly because he simply didn’t want to drive us any further! We enjoyed the silver lining of our abandonment by being able to walk on the wall with no other tourists anywhere in sight, but in the back of our minds we were wondering how on earth we would be able to get another taxi from here at the end…it was very deserted!

The Great Wall...all to myself. Mwahahahaha.

The Great Wall…all to myself. Mwahahahaha.

Luckily, once we climbed down we managed to find another taxi driver who took us to our intended destination: Badaling (only after trying to do the same as the previous driver and dump us somewhere far from where we actually wanted to go. This time I persisted and simply refused to get out of the car!). From here we took a cable car up to the top and were met with the most spectacular views of the Great Wall seemingly on every side of the horizon. Truly amazing. It was only then that I relaxed and realised that I’d actually made it to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It felt like we had barely been up there a few moments before we started to wonder how on earth we’d get back down (we could only buy a “one-way” cable car ticket). Soon enough we found a sign pointing us 2 kilometres down the wall in the direction of a “descending slide” – whatever on earth that meant. When we got there we realised there was some sort of toboggan constructed on a track that ran all the way back down to ground level from the wall high up above. We also realised they were about to run their last slide of the day, so to speak. So we made a dash and hopped on for one of the most surreal experiences of my life…sliding down the side of the Great Wall of China not having a clue where we would end up at the bottom.

As it turns out, where we ended up at the bottom wasn’t simply another part of the tourist centre but also a bear zoo, of all things. By this point I was sufficiently disorientated (once again) and we managed to make it back to the BFSU Hotel in the city centre within another couple of hours.

And, with that, my weekend in China, my Boya Forum 2013 experience and my time as a quintessentially confused tourist was over. I made the day-long journey back to Lancaster the next morning. For all there was a bit of stress involved in getting around I had a truly amazing time and can’t wait for another opportunity to go back. In the meantime I am only two weeks away from starting my MA in what I expect to be the busiest year of my academic career so far. And, though the Spine on Lancaster campus doesn’t quite have the same aura about it as the Great Wall, I look forward to walking it all the same as I take the next step in what has so far been an incredible journey.


Hello! As implied by the less-punny title of this blog, it appears that I’m heading to Beijing next week! Trust me – I’m about as surprised about this as you might be. Especially after I thought I had had my fill of academic trips abroad, what with Copenhagen last week. So let me explain.

About a month ago, when I returned to CASS after graduating, I had a conversation with Tony McEnery where he told me about an opportunity to present at an undergraduate conference in Beijing. The Beijing Foreign Studies University had sent an invitation for one student at from Lancaster to travel over there and present on one of a range of topics, including cultural studies, english literature, media and communication studies and, importantly, language studies. Tony suggested that I put together an abstract for a potential presentation and I jumped at the chance. Within three hours I had picked an assignment from my undergraduate degree (what else other than my corpus-based analysis of the same-sex marriage debate?) and condensed it down into a 300 word abstract.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Just as I sent my abstract to Tony I heard that another department had seemingly been going through the same hurried undergrad-presenter recruitment process and someone else had already been chosen. So that was that, and I tried to forget the idea of travelling to Beijing as quickly as it had appeared.

Imagine, then, my surprise when on Friday evening, after an entire month of forgetting everything about my brief flirt with presenting in China, an email appears entitled “Notice of Acceptance”. Notice of acceptance for what? I thought – and indeed it was confirmation that my abstract had in fact been accepted and that I was invited to present in Beijing on September 14th! As it happens Tony had sent my abstract in anyway on the off-chance that the organisers might like it anyway – and it seems they did!

So with that I’m jetting off on Thursday next week for a three night stay at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, where I will present on the Saturday at the “Boya Forum 2013” undergraduate conference. Since my audience will be mainly undergraduate or recently graduated students from a variety of non-linguistic fields I’ll be treating my talk as a bit of a “demo” of corpus-based linguistic methods. So in this sense I’ll be very proudly waving the CASS flag and doing a bit of a sales pitch for all things corpus-related.

I’m incredibly excited to head out there next week and give a talk in a completely different setting, and I’m especially pleased that the other Lancaster student presenting there is George Potter, who I already know and can’t wait to see his talk! It sounds like a setting where students on a similar academic level but from very different backgrounds will be able to come together and share ideas.

Of course, I’ll be back with a full follow-up on how I get on, but in the mean time wish me luck while I very unexpectedly go Beijing-bound!


Hello again! First of all, excuse the title of this post. It hit me on the plane and I actually chuckled to myself before realising (a) I was alone and so my spontaneous laughter looked weird, and (b) it really is a terrible pun. Nonetheless I thought I’d give it a go. Let me know what you think.

Anyway, this week Amanda and I travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark to represent CASS at a set of events organised by the RELINE Legal Linguistics Network at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Law. The aim of the two-day series of talks was to explore and promote interdisciplinary thinking between the areas of linguistics and legal research. The first day was a course where PhD students (mainly with a legal interest) could present some of their own research as well as interact with professors Anne Lise Kjaer, Wolfgang Teubert, Vijay Bhatia, Lawrence Solan and Jan Engberg, who each gave talks too. As someone from the “linguistics camp” with almost no knowledge of legal practice it was really interesting to hear about how the analysis of language can be useful in the study of legal documents. Reassuringly, some of the PhD students from a law background told me they were clueless about linguistic analysis, so I suppose that was the point of putting us all together in the same room for the day! The professors on hand each had their own niches of interest and I was particularly excited to meet Larry Solan since I realised fairly early on that I had read one of his articles during the new Forensic Linguistics module this year. He just so happens to be a really nice guy too!

This was also the day where I had a slot to present my undergrad research on the same-sex marriage debate (slides now available here). Had I known, when writing the original assignment during the Easter holidays (and while being ridiculously distracted by rehearsing for this), that I would end up presenting about it in Copenhagen later in the year I would have laughed out loud – a lot. But I was thrilled to be able to give academic presenting a go, and especially in a fairly intimate setting around a table in a meeting room in the beautiful city centre building that contains the Faculty of Law. What’s more – I think it went okay! I managed to stick to time and keep the attention of the room while rabbitting on about same-sex marriage for a few minutes.

The huge selection of Danish pastries I ate for breakfast forced me to sit during my presentation.

The huge selection of Danish pastries I ate for breakfast forced me to sit during my presentation.

The second day was a seminar where the professors from the first day – as well as Amanda – got to present at more length about their work and the interdisciplinary possibilities between linguistic and legal analysis. It seems there is lots of room for further research to be done and I’d love to be involved in this in some way if I can be of use! This was followed by a very pleasant drink on the rooftop terrace above the building and a gorgeous meal at Restaurant Höst where we chatted about future steps in working with the people from Copenhagen again.

Overall it was a great trip and what I’d like to think as a successful first foray into presenting in a non-undergrad academic environment. It was certainly very encouraging to chat with so many interesting people and I’d like to thank CASS for funding my trip. I hope to go back again soon (especially if I can squeeze in another trip to the theme park too!).

Settling in at CASS

Hello again! After a lovely weekend seeing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe – including the acting debut of Kat Gupta, meeting Heather Froehlich, and joining the legendary John Kirk for a hilarious post-CL2013 catch up – I thought I would give you a little update on how things are going in the CASS office after the first two weeks of my pre-MA summer research time.

Well, to put it simply, things are moving pretty quickly. If my surprise at being asked to present a poster at the CASS launch night last month wasn’t enough, then imagine my shock when an email arrived from Anne Lise Kjaer at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen, inviting me to go over there to attend a PhD course on “The Application of Linguistic Methods in Legal and Socio-Legal Research”…next week! I had met Anne Lise at the launch night and knew that she was interested in what I was doing, but for that to turn into a visit so quickly is a very nice surprise. What’s more, I found out only two days ago that I’m presenting my same-sex marriage research as part of the event! So, needless to say, a lot of the last two days has been spent transforming the contents of my poster into what is supposed to be a 10 minute long presentation. That doesn’t sound much, but since it’s my first ever presentation as a “postgrad” I’ll happily go for something with a shorter time limit. The only problem is trying to fit everything I want to say in to the time – I suppose this is one of the many academic gripes I’m going to discover over the coming months…

So anyway, early Monday morning I’ll be jetting off to Denmark for a three night stay – and be sure to expect a blog with how I manage in my first ever presentation once I return.

The first slide of my first presentation on my first trip to Copenhagen. First time for quite literally everything.

The first slide of my presentation. If I can open with something that looks clever I might just get away with it.

The rest of my time at CASS so far has been spent working on three different research projects with Professor Paul Baker and CASS Senior Research Associates Amanda Potts and Vaclav Brezina. Back in June when I agreed to stay in Lancaster over the summer I knew that I would be working in an environment of experienced and talented corpus linguists, but I didn’t really consider how much you can learn simply by spending time with these people. The projects I’ve been working on are so far are already requiring a bunch of new skills and you could say I’ve certainly found my place on a fairly steep learning curve! The work with Paul is extending the research I had already done on the same-sex marriage debates this year and I’m really excited about getting that written up and finished off. Likewise the projects with Amanda and Vaclav are teaching me a lot about recording everything I do and not ignoring the details. So it’s safe to say I’m learning a lot already – and all before I’ve even started the MA!

Speaking of the which, I found out last week that, on top of the modules I’ll be taking within the Department of Linguistics and English Language next year, I’ll also be auditing a statistical analysis course in the Department of Psychology. So it seems I’ll be brushing up on my A-level maths big-style over the next academic year! I’m told that I’ll be the first ever linguistics student to take this course so I’m very much the CASS guinea pig on this one – let’s hope it doesn’t fry my brain too much!

Looking ahead to after the MA, I also officially accepted my PhD offer this week, starting in October 2014 and hopefully wrapping up within three years by late 2017. Once I’m finished I’ll be nearly 26. Lorks. All I’m hoping is that much sooner than that I will stop being so surprised by everything that’s happening to me and believe that my ongoing transition from undergrad to postgrad is very much real and very much a wonderful thing.


My first conference…CL2013!

Hello again! Since sitting my last undergraduate exam at the end of May (and moving into the CASS centre only 3 days later) I’ve been dealing with a transition from the UG life I had once known to a new, postgraduate lifestyle. Something that certainly sped up this acclimatisation was the seventh international Corpus Linguistics conference (CL2013), which I attended last week as a student volunteer.

This was my first ever academic conference and, as you might expect, I approached the week with a lot of uncertainty in my mind. In terms of how the week would pan out I really had no idea what to expect and, among other things, I was a little nervous about meeting the faces behind some of the famous names I had read about in the corpus linguistics world. I was particularly excited about meeting a few people because I had read through most of the abstracts weeks in advance of the conference (most of my “CASS-time” in June was spent editing together the Word documents into a mahoosive, 370 page long abstract book…).

As a volunteer I spent most of my week wearing a beautifully designed bright blue t-shirt and a matching, equally beautiful bright green conference bag. Aside from setting international fashion trends, I got to sit in on most of the talks that tickled my fancy while helping out with any technical issues etc. All speakers (other than the daily plenaries) were given a 20 minute slot and then 10 minutes afterwards to answer any audience questions. It was fascinating to witness first hand the breadth and depth of research that is currently being advanced using corpus-based methods, as well as the really informative and productive discussions that followed each talk. I really got the sense that, despite everyone’s individual research interests, this was very much a community in which we’re all fighting the same metaphorical battle. And as the week went on I really started to get (admittedly geekily) excited about joining such a community of researchers.

As well as furthering my interest in the subject and witnessing how seriously it can be taken (there was a fairly animated discussion about p-values that I’ll not soon forget…) there were also some moments that I didn’t expect to enjoy as a conference blueshirt (yes, it became a noun). Interrupting Michael Hoey’s plenary talk to hand-deliver him my own bottle of water (after which he jokingly complained that it wasn’t beer); having a nice one-to-one with Guy Cook while escorting him back to the hotel; being in the same room as John Kirk whenever he started talking, and taking advantage of the free wine at the Gala dinner with David Wright were all highlights.

But, for me, the real highlight of the whole conference was the official CASS launch night.  I remember back in April a rushed conversation outside on campus with Amanda Potts (conference organiser), where she asked me if I wanted to present a poster at the CASS launch night. A poster of what? was my first thought (aside from the shock of being asked with a faceful of Greggs’ sausage roll…), since at the time I hadn’t even finished my degree and couldn’t think of anything I’d be confident enough in to unleash on anyone – let alone a room full of experienced corpus linguists and important people from the Home Office and the like. But of course I said yes and finished off my sausage roll wondering what I’d let myself in for.

When the time came to prepare something, I’d decided on an undergrad assignment that I completed for the corpus linguistics module only earlier this year. I had used corpus methods to compare the language of the MPs in favour of and against legalising the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in a debate earlier this year. By sheer luck, the bill was indeed passed only days before the conference, so the poster that I had made to present at the launch night got a bit more attention than I expected!

Hob-nobbing with Bernard Silverman, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office.

Hob-nobbing with Bernard Silverman, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office.

Aside from being mentioned twice in a speech by former Home Secretary Charles Clarke (which caused my face to match the colour of my shirt), my work took the interest of the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office, Bernard Silverman. As you can see above, we had a good old natter about it while I clutched on to my glass of red wine, apparently looking like a sweating, pointing maniac. Despite this (and how I picked a shirt that I had forgotten was missing a button and therefore showed a bit more chest than I really deemed appropriate…) I think the main message from the night was one of encouragement. It certainly helped me settle my worries about whether or not I was really ready for this sort of thing. I think I can safely say now that I was!

All in all, CL2013 was a brilliant week that helped me in numerous ways. Aside from helping me keep my tummy full all week (the food was, like, AMAZING) it helped bridge the gap in my mind between where I am now and where I can hope to be in the not too distant future. And with the announcement that Lancaster would once again host the next Corpus Linguistics conference in 2015 (by which time I’ll be a first-year PhD student) it’s nice to feel like the only way is up.