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It's a privilege and a responsibility

In the following, Katrine is telling about her PhD project and her thoughts on life as a PhD student.

Facts about Katrine Falcon Søby

Katrine Falcon Søby finished her master in linguistics (and Danish as a second language) from the University of Copenhagen in 2015. Since then she has taught basic Danish grammar at Folkeuniversitetet and worked at a language school teaching people Danish as their second language. This got her interested in language learning and the role of grammar in communication. Joining the research group “Broken Grammar and Beyond”, was the perfect opportunity for her to dig in to these questions.

What is your PhD project about and how far along are you?

I’m a linguist studying grammatical anomalies – i.e. cases of convention-breaking grammar. Examples could be atypical usage of word order or inflections, e.g. he drink coffee. I’m affiliated with a research group called ”Broken Grammar and Beyond”, led by my supervisor Line Burholt Kristensen. In the group, we compare the types and frequencies of grammatical anomalies in texts produced by native speakers of Danish to those produced by second language learners of Danish. By means of controlled reading experiments and eye-tracking, we investigate how language users read and understand texts with different types of grammatical anomalies: Which anomalies do for instance affect reading speed and which may not even be noticed? Finally, our project will use neuroimaging to investigate the neural underpinnings of grammar comprehension.
I started a year ago and so far I’ve mainly worked with our corpus of learner texts. I’ve looked at which types of grammatical anomalies learners with English and German as their native languages produce when they write Danish – and if any of the differences could be due to crosslinguistic influence from their mother tongue. Also, I’m working on the design of the first reading experiment.

What is a typical working day like for you?

I try to keep normal office hours and mainly work when I’m in my office. So far I’ve been pretty successful but there are periods when it’s difficult. For instance during semesters with a lot of teaching or before conferences where you’re going to present something. During my first year, I’ve been teaching quite a lot, so most days have involved preparing lessons or teaching. And then trying to squeeze in some work on the project. Typical days could also involve meetings in the project group or other research groups, supervision, or participating in PhD courses on different topics, for instance research ethics, teaching methods or different kinds of useful software. Usually, my two office mates and I go out to the common room around 12 o’clock where we join the other PhD students and researchers, including my supervisor, for lunch. Sometimes, when we need a bit of fresh air in the afternoon, we go pick up coffee somewhere on campus. Being in such a social research environment means a lot for your well-being.

Personally, I am very fond of being part of a research group where we both have common and individual subprojects but work on the same general research questions. I can imagine how lonely writing a thesis could be.

Would you recommend being a PhD to others and why?

Yes, I would – if you loved university and would like to be able to continue learning and discovering new things. Joining the research group was the perfect opportunity to spend three years doing something exciting. It is a huge privilege to be able to dig into these issues now and spend my time on learning new things. It is both fantastic and terrifying to be free to decide what you are going to do and when you are going to do it for 3 years. It is a privilege but also a huge responsibility and weight on your shoulders when things are not going as planned or you are behind schedule. So far it’s been great but maybe I will say something else in a year when I might be stuck somewhere in a major writing crisis. If it is possible I would like to continue doing research, but I am aware that it might be difficult so I am very open towards other areas, e.g. teaching grammar, language didactics or Danish at seminars or language schools, working as a language consultant in the public or private sector etc.