The Good, the Bad and the Ugly… Oh, and the research scheme too!

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by Bethany Harwood

Initially, going into my research scheme, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Hours upon hours of sitting in front of my laptop under constant supervision from the head of my department struck me as extremely daunting; especially if I was struggling to come up with conclusions, or relate my findings to those of other researchers within a similar field.

Fortunately for me, my research scheme was thoroughly enjoyable as a result of the guidance and supervision provided by the head of my department (Dr Suganthi John) and the conclusions I drew from my data – which, to my surprise, did in fact also correspond with the findings of other researchers! I was fascinated by the conclusions, and would often walk into Suganthi’s office with an excited grin on my face exclaiming ‘Look what I found!’

We were exploring the accents used in children’s literature; more specifically, whether the villainous characters in children’s books use specific speech patterns in comparison to the ‘good’ characters (hence the title; comparing the ‘good’ with the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’). What was interesting to me was that in several audiobooks, there was evidently a class struggle – including one story with a troll who used similar speech patterns to the generic Birmingham accent, which was very intriguing!

The audiobooks also showed evidence of a correlation in the speech patterns of the villains; many used harsh consonants regularly and incorporated speech patterns similar to accents which are generally perceived as harder sounding.

These generalizations were tentative to begin with, as they are quite the assumptions to make (and very difficult to word in academic writing like this without offending anybody!) But after discovering findings in published research papers which drew almost identical conclusions to those that I had drawn from my own selection of data, I had to record these results and show them to Suganthi immediately!

I did not think I would have as much fun as I did during my research scheme. As I already had a passion for research I knew that I would enjoy it to an extent, but every time I found a researcher who had drawn a similar conclusion to me, I would exclaim it to the house from the study – sorry housemates – and truly feel like a real researcher drawing proper conclusions.

I wasn’t under supervision every hour of every day as I was dreading; Suganthi let me go and collect my own data and research independently, to then report my findings back to her in our meetings. This was the perfect working environment for me and structuring the weeks we would work prior to the summer holiday was extremely helpful – I like to travel… a lot – so I could negotiate my hours around my holidays and time spent with my family.

With the scheme only being five weeks of an effectively our month summer, I wasn’t taking on too much work to topple a work-life balance, and to have such an enjoyable job for those weeks was an added bonus!

For ages I have assumed that researchers spend every hour of every day on a laptop staring at a screen, and thus automatically decided I wanted nothing to do with this field of linguistic study. Coming to university altered this perspective, but completing the research scheme changed it entirely. I have been exposed to the flexibility of research, the collecting of data, the analysis of your own data and choosing the very area that you would like to research yourself! It is hard work; that is no illusion, and you enter into the scheme knowing how much id required of you, which, yes, may be daunting to some. However, when you have this much flexibility and guidance with your research, are supervised by the best researchers in the business (arguably of course, and in my personal opinion – thank you Suganthi for everything!) and get so much out of the scheme itself; it really is an opportunity you simply cannot miss!

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