This guest blog post is by Katerina Pantoula, a Year 2 PhD candidate in Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on the processing of complex syntactic structures by bilingual children who speak English and Greek residing in the Scottish Lowlands, from which she collects primary linguistic data. Having received funding from the SGSAH SDF Training Fund, Katerina was recently able to conduct fieldwork research in the Institute for Speech and Language Processing of the Athena Research and Innovation Centre in Athens (see Pictures 1 and 2).
Rigorous core training, of a future linguist, nowadays, requires to become skilful into collecting language data from consultants. This is the case for my PhD in Linguistics and English Language degree as well. As such, I had to travel to Athens, Greece for data collection from pre-school and school-aged children. The children had to speak only one native language; in the case of my research project, Standard Modern Greek, which is the reason I was obliged to travel to Greece.
The generous financial assistance of the SGSAH made my necessary research visit, from mid November 2017 to early February 2018, to the brand new Human Behavior, Interaction and Communication Lab (The HUBIC Lab) (www.hubic-lab.eu) (see Picture 3) in Athens, Greece possible. In a poverty-struck Athens, The HUBIC Lab premises stood out like an ornament and made my data collection feasible. In The HUBIC Lab, I was fortunate enough to be able to have access to the very same state-of-the-art eye tracking equipment that we also have in the Edinburgh Laboratory for Language Development (ELfLanD) at The University of Edinburgh. Namely, a portable Tobii Pro X2-60 screen-based eye tracker (see Picture 4) and a table-based Tobii TX-300 (see Picture 5). Thus, the fact that the same device and script was used in both labs in Edinburgh and Athens made my data comparable.
My research schedule was significantly busy and had to be implemented in a limited amount of time. During my first week in ILSP, (www.ilsp.gr/en) I was engaged with paperwork and a re-training of the eye tracking equipment. Then, I contacted the private nursery schools that had initially agreed to participate in the research. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that once I gained access to pre-school consultants, the first thing I did was to pilot again and again the protocol to make sure everything worked normally. Then, I started collecting data from my 5-to-9 year old consultants. Parents and their child consultants were receptive of the possibility their children participating into scientific research and as such they were happy to allow their children to participate in the research. Child consultants themselves enjoyed the procedure a lot and really wanted to participate again in similar research.
What I learned from collecting data abroad alone, outwith the safety the University Lab premises and IT specialists offer, is that the Ethics training we have received as part of our program is the most valuable guide. The majority of the problems, if not all, a researcher might encounter can be successfully tackled if and only if the stringent code of ethics is followed.
This fieldwork trip, indisputably, evolved me as a linguist, teacher and researcher. In particular, it offered me the opportunity to further develop skills such as knowledge and intellectual abilities as well as the knowledge of the standards, the requirements and the professionalism to do research necessary for my future career as a linguist and researcher, respectively, as those are portrayed in the Researcher’s Development Framework. As far as the teaching component is concerned, when research involves data collection from vulnerable populations, in this case, children, then we might use pedagogical techniques to interact with children.
Needless to emphasise here that my research perspective was positively enhanced by the cutting-edge environment of THE HUBIC Lab and ILSP. Anything and everything goes under scrutiny when natural language researchers (engineers, linguists, mathematicians, programmers, and the like) meet and exchange ideas then the final product is the least excellent. In a nutshell, the ILSP researchers offered me a new research home abroad which I will never obliviate. What I will also never obliviate is that an ILSP researcher, who was using the Tobii eye tracker the time I visited The HUBIC Lab, returned the Tobii eye tracker so that I can collect data and they borrowed a different one from The HUBIC Lab to continue their research. This act is called solidarity and it is extremely rare nowadays; so, if somebody happens to be benefited by it the least they can do is be grateful forever.
I finally, left Athens to return to Edinburgh after a demanding but successful 10-week period of language data collection. Actually, I flew from Athens to Edinburgh with 5 kilograms of paper data in my hand luggage, safeguarding the data like gold! This data collection period undoubtedly comprised advanced training in linguistics research and I am wholeheartedly grateful to the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities that supported this necessary research activity.
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