UofT Language Research Day 2021
Conference Highlights

Language Research in a Virtual Context

On November 12th, 2021, the Bilingual and Multilingual Development Lab (BAM!) from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI) hosted the first ever University of Toronto Graduate Language Research Day. This inaugural conference was conceived of and organized by BAM! graduate students Kai Ian Leung, Insiya Bhalloo, Wenfu Bao and Emily Wood, as well as postdoctoral researcher Glynnis Dubois, with support and guidance from lab director and supervisor Dr. Monika Molnar. The one-day conference was developed with the intent to provide graduate students researching all aspects of language the opportunity to connect and learn more about the diverse language-related research that takes place across departments, campuses and affiliated hospitals at UofT. This year’s theme ‘Language in a Virtual Context’ highlighted the many ways in which our students navigated conducting research remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In following with the theme, conference presentations were held online through Zoom, while the networking portion was hosted on the interactive platform Gather Town.

Keynote Speaker – Marion Coumel

Our keynote speaker, Marion Coumel, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick (UK), began the day of presentations with a discussion of her current research investigating the theoretical psycholinguistic mechanisms that underlie bilingual language processing and second language learning. Her talk focused on how syntactic priming supports language learning across different contexts, be it in face-to-face, in written chat-based interactions, or in online non-interactive tasks. Marion Coumel also provided insight into what she has learned about conducting research online. She shared with attendees that deliberate planning and consideration of potential modifications of materials and equipment is essential and encouraged researchers to capitalize on technological advances to engage in international and cross-cultural collaborations in the field of language research.

Oral Presentations

The keynote talk was followed by two parallel sessions, featuring over 20 oral presentations from MSc and PhD students across the fields of computer science, linguistics, education, and speech-language pathology. More than 90 participants attended over the course of the day. Attendees were primarily other graduate students from UofT as well as students from Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, York University and Ryerson University. Throughout the morning and afternoon sessions, participants were encouraged to move from one breakout room to another, allowing them to join the talks that most interested them.

The Awards

All presentations were evaluated by volunteer judges from RSI, and prizes were awarded for best MSc and PhD talks. Presenters were evaluated based on presentation content, design, and scientific communication skills. The winners were awarded a prize of $100 and the title of Best MSc or Best PhD Oral Presentation. Congratulations to MSc winner, Jai Aggarwal, and PhD winner Ian Berlott-Attwell! Jai is currently studying in the department of Computer Science and delivered two fascinating talks at the conference. The first explored the impact of cognitive load on referential success and the second elaborated on investigating the linguistic markers of autistic speech online. Ian’s research is in the field of computational linguistics. In his presentation he discussed a comparison between existing metrics and a novel simple metric in dialogue datasets. Well done Jai and Ian!

Making Connections 

Following the presentations, all attendees were invited to a networking session, and encouraged to share tips and strategies for maintaining a productive research-from-home environment. Notable tips included use of the Pomodoro technique for time management, and the Cold Turkey web function to keep distractions to a minimum. Thank you to all participants for sharing their ideas!

The Language Research Day conference was designed to provide graduate students conducting language-related research a platform to present their work and connect with one another. Feedback from presenters and participants indicates that this goal was achieved. The breadth and depth of language science studies showcased, and the engagement from graduate students across multiple disciplines was impressive. Given its’ success, we hope to host a yearly Language Research Day conference, making it a signature of the department. Future conferences will strive to address topical and thought-provoking themes in the field of language science, and further unite early career researchers from varied disciplines, both at the University and across the Greater Toronto Area.

Many Thanks!

The Graduate Language Research Day Committee would like to extend a sincere thank you to all the individuals who made this conference a success. First, a big thank you to the School of Graduate Studies for funding and the Department of Speech-Language Pathology for sponsoring this event. Secondly, to our volunteer moderators Nicole Boles and Somayah Alees, this day would not have been possible without you. Thank you for ensuring we stayed on time, and for fielding questions and moderating discussions. To our judges, Fiona Hobler and Meera Premnazeer, we appreciate your time and commitment to making this day and success, and your thoughtful and considerate evaluations of the presentations. Finally, thanks to all the MSc and PhD students who registered to present and attend the conference. It was incredible to hear about the fascinating research being conducted at our institution and inspiring to have the opportunity to speak with our peers from other disciplines and fields about the importance and implications of their projects.

We hope to see you, in-person or online, at Language Research Day 2022!