for OSU linguistics graduate students
department's graduate program handbook and the
school handbook are the"official rules" and in the short term will trump any "unofficial rules"
that you might extrapolate when you seek advice from fellow graduate students
The "unofficial rules" may matter as much in the long run, though, but in
trying to catch them, you are wise to cast your net broadly by talking
with everyone here (i.e., not just the people in your cohort or in the
same research interest groups),
and also by looking outside OSU (e.g., by reading
guide" to getting a Ph.D. in another linguistics program)
and outside the field of linguistics (e.g., by reading
Ronald Azuma and
Senior advisors and potential mentors who are actively doing research and
training students are also good people to look at for what the enterprise
is all about and how to navigate it efficiently.
Some of them may even have articulated "official guidelines" for students,
as Shravan Vasishth has done
It is also important to keep in mind the broader principles outlined in
the statements about
with human subjects in the introductory section of the
which really should trump either the official or the unofficial "rules",
Part of these broader principles is the scientific method and becoming
comfortable with becoming more and more stupid, as outlined in this article on
the importance of stupidity,
the gist of which "is summed up quite succinctly" in this
[thanks to Ben Munson for
finding the Schwartz (2008) piece,
and to Ilana Heintz
for the link to the succinct summary]
Chris Blattman has many bits of useful advice on his
links in the menu to the right on his blog page.
There is also no better advice than to cultivate an appreciation of the fact
that the research must be its own reward.
Note that this is just a more specific aspect of the general adage:
Hinn er sæll / er sér of getr / lof ok líknstafi /
ódælla er við þat / er maðr eiga skal /
annars brjóstum í
for all linguists
"It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard
a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast." --
"Data are a four-letter word." -- Susan Fischer
[just as love and food and other things critical to the
survival of the species are -- MEB]
We do well to remind ourselves every day that linguistic models are
like any other kind of scientific model. The metric suggested by
George E. P. Box
is probably more helpful (as well as less demoralizing) than the second of
Feynman's approach to intertwining problem solving with teaching is an
inspiring as well as a useful model.
Also see above on the importance of being stupid, as well as
the importance of
ourselves to be able to
see where the data fail to support our assumptions.
Thanks to Erik
Willis for pointing me to Malcolm Gladwell's
"The picture problem"
for a more recent piece on this issue.
The importance of training ourselves to see is a subpart of the first of
Cikoski's Fundamental Laws of Science:
1. Don't never assume nothing.
A classic object lesson in the consequences of
ignoring this "law" is the miscounting of the number of human chromosomes
that was standard until 1950s.
(See account/analysis in Lawrence Unger and Robert V. Blystone (1996).
Paradigm lost: The human chromosome story. Bioscience, 22(2): 3-9.)
A corollary of this principle is the need to develop good methods for
independent observation and cross-check.
The second of Cikoski's Fundamental Laws of Science is
2. If it don't make sense, you ain't got it right!
which joins together the importance of checking your numbers and
of thinking deeply about the "linking hypothesis" that relates
your numbers to your theory.
The third and fourth of Cikoski's Fundamental Laws of Science echo Susan Fischer's Rule:
3. A hundred opinions are no better than one: get facts.
4. There ain't no such thing as too much data.
A bit of advice from Martin Joos (specific to phonetics as stated, but applicable
to all branches of linguistics) on knowing about all relevant sciences in sufficient
detail that one's models of linguistic phenomena are properly grounded in the body
of extant general knowledge:
"Acoustic phonetics discussion, even when it is carried on by a linguist, must deal
with sound as sound: it must deal (la) with the conversion of muscular energy into
sound-wave energy, and of course (1b) with the articulatory control of the conversion;
(2a) with the detailed analysis of speech sounds into those elements or features which
are named and measured by any student of acoustics when he describes a sound as a sound,
that is, when he describes it without reference to its source or the manner of its
generation, though of course (2b) the linguist will not, as a physicist would, stop
short of correlating those measured features with linguistic categories; and (3a) with
perception, with hearing, with speech sound as a vibration that is perceived by the
listener's ear and brain, where (3b) the linguist cannot shirk, as the physicist
naturally does, consideration of the special nature of listening to speech as compared
to all other listening." [Joos, 1948, pp. 5-6]
In this vein, here is a well-phrased bit of (implicit) advice from
Jonathan Howell about embracing "a philosophy of methodological pluralism" in your research.
Wilson's Advice to Young Scientists is also relevant. Among other things,
he says to not be afraid of bumbling in maths, but to acquire some basic fluency
as early as you can, and then focus on learning as much as you can about the domain,
"It is far easier for scientists, including medical researchers, to acquire needed
collaboration in mathematics and statistics, than it is for mathematicians and
statisticians to find scientists able to make use of their equations."
[Wilson's Principle Number 1, which is stated at 8:00-8:23 minutes through his
homily at https://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_advice_to_young_scientists]
Peter Marler's implicit advice about literature reviews:
"It is a sobering yet ultimately healthy experience to reread the works of
great men of science and to discover the extent to which they anticipated ideas
and developments that we of our generation had fondly thought to be original."
[from his chapter "Primate vocalization: Affective or symbolic?"
pp. 221-229 in the 1980 volume Speaking of Apes,
edited by Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok.]
Although I am an employee at The Ohio State University, opinions expressed
on this page are my own and not that of the university.