Research Labs in MLL? Yes!

Most of us do not think of the humanities when they hear the word “lab”. A research lab conjures up images of bunsen burners and beakers, microscopes and white coats, and perhaps various signs warning of fire hazards and chemical spills posted inside and out. But those who attended the first of two MLL Undergraduate Research Showcases, part of W&M’s “April is Undergraduate Research Month,” could hear all about labs in Modern Languages and Literatures. Paul Vierthaler, Assistant Professor in Chinese Studies, and Rachel Varra, Assistant Professor in Hispanic Studies and in Linguistics, gave us an overview of what their labs look like, and of the kind of work students do in those labs. Like any lab, there is a lot of equipment: computers that are more powerful than your regular laptop, specialized software, recording devices, but also: mini-fridges and sofas. Students spend a lot of time in these spaces. Much of the wdatlasork they do is inherently collaborative – a somewhat unusual approach to research in the humanities. Prof. Vierthaler’s students spoke about bringing ideas for data processing to him and developing and workshopping apps; another group of students is creating a game to help raise awareness of human trafficking. Prof. Varra’s students are interviewing Spanish speakers in the community and learning how to transcribe recordings and compile a corpus. The lively discussion and the numerous questions from the audience prove that interdisciplinary work – with Data Science and with Linguistics in these cases – and collaborative forms of research are of great interest to students.

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