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Information for:
Graduate Students
Undergraduate Students
Paid Research positions
Work Study

Graduate Students

UNC Chapel Hill is an ideal place to study psycholinguistics. There is a stimulating community of language researchers, with a lot of contact between graduate students and faculty from numerous programs and departments. The cognitive program includes two professors that investigate the mechanisms of language use and understanding: Jennifer Arnold and Peter Gordon. There are many other language researchers on campus, in departments that include the linguistics department, theĀ Romance studies department , and the division of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

The application cycle for 2021-22 has closed, but the Cognitive Program will be accepting applications again next December for starting fall 2023.

If you are interested in working in Dr. Arnold’s laboratory, click here for more information about the Cognitive Program in the Psychology Department and how to apply.


Undergraduate Students

If you are interested in a career in psychology, linguistics, or a related field, it is an excellent idea to get involved with research as an undergraduate.

There are three primary ways to become involved with research in my lab:

a) for credit (independent research – psyc/nsci 395 or ling 496)

b) work study

c) currently (AY2022-23) I also have paid NSF REU positions.

Students who have previously worked in my lab can also go on to do an honors project in their senior year.

NOTE: We will begin considering applications for the year 2022-23 this summer, beginning on July 1 and then on a rolling basis until the first day of classes.
To apply, please fill out thisĀ  APPLICATION

Requirements for all positions:

  • Currently enrolled at UNC and not graduating until May 2023 or later
  • available to work about 9 hours/week
  • commit to a two-semester sequence (can be discontinuous)
  • meticulous, attentive to detail, good at communication, reliable, organized, independent worker
  • have an interest in psychology of language and/or linguistics

Requirements for some positions:

  • for psyc/ling/nsci 395: make sure you meet the departmental requirements and meet the deadline to apply
  • for ling 496: make sure you meet the departmental requirements (see linguistics department)
  • if you are applying for work study, you must have a work study award that will allow you to work at least 8 hours per week for the whole year.

Skills that are beneficial (these are not required, but one or more of these skills increase the chance you’ll be selected):

  • programming experience
  • training in linguistics
  • knowledge of: Qualtrics, Excel, Adobe Photoshop
  • specialized experience: Praat (a phonetics program), Penn Ibex (a crowd-sourcing site), Eyetracking

What do undergraduate RAs do in the lab?

Undergraduates help with ongoing research in a variety of ways. Typically an RA is assigned to a specific job, and works independently until the job is done. It is important to stay in close communication with the project leader and seek input in case of problems. Example RA jobs: preparing visual stimuli in Photoshop; preparing auditory stimuli; creating Qualtrics surveys and double-checking them; programming stimuli in Penn Ibex or Exbuilder (for the eyetracker); running participant; managing data; transcribing and coding linguistic data. Some advanced undergraduate students get involved with helping to design experiments and even presenting data at conferences; occasionally students are involved in writing publications.

RAs typically work for 9 hours a week during the academic year. When summer positions are available, weekly commitment is arranged on a person by person basis.

RAs attend lab meetings and reading groups as a part of their 9 hours; these occur about every other week.

What kind of research would I be involved with?

The Arnold lab does research on language production and comprehension. Much of our work examines the process of referring, which is a core piece of communication. If I want to refer to Kamala Harris, do I say Ms. Harris? The Vice president? She? If I hear someone say “the girl” or “she”, how do I know which person is being referred to? Examining this process tells us how the human mind is able to bring together information from multiple sources.

Currently some of the specific questions we are testing are:

  • What is the relationship between predicting who will be mentioned and interpreting pronouns? We examine this with Qualtrics surveys that probe either prediction or pronoun interpretation under different conditions and look for similarities and differences.
  • Is pronoun comprehension driven by experience with the most frequent referential structures? This is tied to a broader question about whether people adapt dynamically to the structures are most frequent in the current context, which is known as statistical learning or adaptation. We use Qualtrics surveys to expose people to different structures and test whether that affects pronoun comprehension.
  • How do people decide between pronouns and names, and is this influenced by the timing of production?
  • The English pronominal system is changing as people use singular “they” in a broader set of contexts. How is pronoun comprehension and production influenced by this change in progress?

What research skills would I gain?

This depends on the specific project you are working on. You will learn about current research topics by hearing students present at lab meeting and through reading groups. You will also gain an appreciation for the research process (design, preparation of stimuli; quality control checks; human subjects ethics; running subjects; data management). You will likely gain an intimate familiarity with the particular programs you work with, which might include Qualtrics, Eyetracking, Praat, or other programs. RAs typically do repetitive activities — for example, open up 16 soundfiles for each of 48 participants and transcribe them, then code them for word choice or acoustic properties. Or, for example, prepare several Qualtrics scripts for an experiment and test them.