PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Hannah Jenkins (University of York)

When I set out to apply for the BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, I had only a vague understanding of linguistic study. Like many, I believed it to be solely focused on sociological questions such as accents, dialects and gendered speech. Throughout my degree, however, I uncovered the intricacies of theoretical linguistics, the patterns and parameters that govern languages across the world and the hidden layers of phonetic and sociological complexity of everyday speech. I developed a particular interest in language disorders and the ways in which these can be sparked by damage to specific regions of the brain. It was this passion that led me to apply for the MA in Psycholinguistics at the University of York.

During my master’s degree, I have had the opportunity to apply my abstract, theoretical knowledge into a real-world context. I have explored how syntactic errors in language learners can be prompted by interference from their first language; I have analysed brain scans to uncover neurological patterns in Aphasic speakers; and I have investigated the effects of processing limitations in child language acquisition. This study has culminated in my dissertation project, which explored the impact of working memory abilities on reading strategies in dyslexia. My research questioned whether working memory limitations amongst dyslexic readers would prompt them to adopt alternative strategies when processing English Wh-questions. Using a memory span task and a self-paced reading experiment, I uncovered that dyslexic readers do demonstrate inefficient parsing strategies which are less able to recover from misanalysis, but crucially these difficulties can be disassociated from working memory abilities.

On completing my master’s degree, I quickly began working in the Student Services department at the University of York. This role allows me to draw upon my own experiences to put the needs of the student first. This has been particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which I have worked in teams to deliver emergency funding to students and to consider special circumstances for research students. I am also now in the early stages of applying for the PhD in Linguistics at the University of York to further pursue my passion for Psycholinguistics.

Without receiving the Philological Society’s Master’s bursary, none of this would have been possible. On a practical note, it enabled me to purchase a laptop through which I used specialist computer software to conduct my experimental paradigm and run complex statistical analysis. More importantly, the bursary allowed me to focus solely on my studies and to make the most of postgraduate life. As one of only two UK students on my course, my MA provided the treasured opportunity to interact with students from all around the world with different backgrounds, insights and interests. Finally, the bursary allowed me to move to York to study; the city that I now call home. The PhilSoc Master’s bursary ultimately opened the door to postgraduate study, which otherwise felt like an unattainable dream. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

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