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Marcus Taft is a psychology professor at the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading authorities in psycholinguistics.  His work on the lexical process of reading and reading ability spans more than three decades.  Among his career achievements was his election as an Honorary Fellow by the Academy of Social Science in Australia in 2008.

 

Early Beginnings

Marcus can trace his interest in the structure of words and the relationship between different languages to high school, although he says he doesn’t actually know why because he can only speak English. When he discovered the existence of a branch of experimental psychology that explored word recognition, he was captivated by it.

He nurtured this interest and knew he would one day become an academic. “My father was an academic and I always expected to follow in his footsteps. So, a PhD was a natural progression once I established the area I wanted to specialize in.  In fact, I found my PhD research to be exciting rather than demanding and stressful.”

 

A Fascinating Study of Words

For more than 30 years Marcus has been investigating the influence of letters and their sequences in words (orthography) and the structure and form of words (morphology) on reading ability.

He believes when a prefixed word (a word added to the beginning of a word to alter its meaning) has been recognised, such as “prepay”, it is split into the prefix (pre) and the stem (pay) and that reading of the word is based only on the stem. 

“This was my very first published finding and remains my most cited work (Taft & Forster, 1975, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour). 

“Since that time, I've published on a range of different topics in relation to word recognition, not just in relation to English, but also French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.  General topics include the processing of syllable structure, the involvement of phonology in silent reading, the processing of letter position, and the activation of orthographic information in spoken word recognition.”

 

Research Challenges

The challenges Marcus has encountered during his research are familiar to many in the academic world including the disappointment of an experiment not producing an expected result.

When that happens, I re-consider whether or not the design of the experiment was optimal and, if it was, just plug on regardless.”

Apart from the difficulties in putting together a clear-cut set of results that tell an interesting story, it's almost impossible to have a paper accepted by a journal without revision. And that's when things are going well! More often than not, the paper is rejected outright.”

  

Following his Research

For anyone interested in getting up to speed with the focus and intent of Marcus’s research, he recommends a few key reading choices:

“A book chapter that overviews a range of my experiments provides the best representation of my research and theoretical position. The most up-to-date of these would be: Taft, M. (2006). A localist-cum-distributed (LCD) framework for lexical processing. In S.M. Andrews. From inkmarks to ideas: Current issues in lexical processing. Psychology Press.

“However, given the difficulty of locating a book chapter, I alternatively recommend the more specifically focused journal article: Taft, M., & Nguyen-Hoan, M. (2010). A sticky stick: The locus of morphological representation in the lexicon. Language and Cognitive Processes, 25, 277-296.”

 

Top Tips from Marcus

Acquiring funding - “You should find a researcher to collaborate with who already has an established track record. Don't be deterred by failure to receive a grant in the early stages of your career. Keep trying.”

Working with Marcus – “I'm happy to take on PhD students who have a strong academic record in cognitive psychology and who are interested in mechanisms of lexical processing in any language or in bilinguals. Prospective students should have particular questions they would like to address.”

 

Downtime

During his spare moments away from university life, Marcus enjoys relaxing at home. He is a keen collector of Australian social memorabilia. His main collection is of old grocery packaging with packets, tins and jars on shelves lining a room just like you would see in an old grocery store. 

However, even when taking time out, his research is never far from his thoughts. “Some of my best ideas emerge when idly thinking in the shower or while lying in bed in the middle of the night.”

 

Marcus Taft's Academic Profile

 

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Christopher Jenks is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Dakota. His work is primarily concerned with the investigation of language learning and identity construction. To this end he uses microanalysis (e.g., conversation analysis and interactional sociolinguistics), ethnography, and symbolic interaction in his research. He is currently working on a book that examines race and ethnicity in the English language teaching profession in South Korea.

 

Career Choice

Christopher’s original career goal was to become a public school teacher in the US.  However, during his MEd studies he developed a love for research that changed all that.

“After completing my graduate degree in the US, I decided to study under Paul Seedhouse and Vivian Cook in the UK (Keith Richards and Li Wei were also on my dissertation committee), both of whom were instrumental in encouraging me to complete my studies.”

 

Research Focus

Shortly after completing his doctorate on task-based learning Christopher published two journal articles.  Most of his subsequent work has been on lingua franca interaction and intercultural communication. “I am now currently working on heritage language learning, second language acquisition, and the teaching and learning of English in the US (e.g., immigrant students).”

He hopes that this research will be of benefit to the many teachers that are responsible for the academic and linguistic development of students that speak English as an additional language.

The inspiration for his current body of work comes from a source very close to home. “My work is inspired by my new role as a father and my desire to raise her bilingually and multiculturally.”

 

Award-Winning Writer

Christopher’s 2010 co-edited book, Conceptualizing Learning in Applied Linguistics, was runner-up for the BAAL 2011 Book Prize, a prestigious annual prize organized by the British Association for Applied Linguistics.

His book on transcription practices [Jenks, C.J. (2011). Transcribing Talk and Interaction: Issues in the Representation of Communication Data. John Benjamins] reflects his general interest in spoken discourse analysis and his goal as a teacher to instruct the best way possible. “I recommend this book to anyone who is starting out in spoken discourse analysis research and teachers responsible for teaching such students. Very few book-length publications deal exclusively with transcription issues, so I think discourse analysts would benefit from having this book.”

Christopher is also the co-editor of an 8-book series on social interaction by Edinburgh University Press and reviews for a clutch of international journals.

 

Applying for Grants

Christopher is keen to pass on advice to students applying for research grants.  The key to getting it right he believes is knowing your audience.  “Who will be reviewing your application? Tailor your writing to them. Avoid jargon and think about social impact. Reviewers and funding bodies want to know what social value your research possesses. If you can't talk about your research in plain, simple English, then you probably need to keep working on your proposal.”

 

Keys to Success

Academic life can be extremely rewarding; it also has its frustrations as Christopher knows only too well from completing his doctoral degree. “Often students feel isolated, and the demands of producing new empirical work is taxing. My key to success was time management. I treated my studies like a job: I read every day for my first year and then wrote nearly every day for subsequent years.”

 

Finding a Job in Academia

For his own research endeavors Christopher would like to work with students who have an interest in heritage languages and immigrant students, particularly in US contexts.  But landing the job you want in academia is challenging due to the competition. Therefore, Christopher advises students start building networks during their studies.

Having connections is very helpful. Also, be prepared to talk about yourself (your research and teaching) as a commodity. You need to be able to convince others that you are the right person for the job. This is not easy an easy task. Try to practice in front of committee members, as well as friends and colleagues!”

 

Christopher Jenks' academic website

 

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Dr Jogesh Muppala is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  He also serves as the program director for the Master of Science in Information Technology (MSc (IT)) program, a series of courses for those who want to obtain broad-based and cutting edge skills in Information Technology.  His academic career spans more than 25 years and has primarily been focused on performance and fault-tolerance in computers and computer networks.

 

At the beginning of his academic research life, Dr. Muppala looked at parallel computers and subsequently worked on computer networks and peer-to-peer networks.  Currently, he’s focused on fault-tolerance and failures in cloud computing systems and data center networks. He is driven by a passion for his field and a desire to look for unconventional approaches to solving problems. Dr. Muppala believes that part of the drive comes from his background.  “Hailing from Asian culture, where we look for getting the most value for our money, I have always been inspired about how we can maximize the benefits from computing resources. We refer to this as the ‘Jugaad’ mentality.”

 

Research is Fun

Dr. Muppala enjoys academic life and calls research the fun part of the job, although exploring the unexplored is not without its challenges.  These difficulties can come from many angles but he believes the key to solving them and ultimately what leads to success is perseverance. “We should not get demotivated by failures, and at the same time not get elated (too much) at our successes. Maintaining a balance is the key.”

He contends that doing a PhD is a lifetime commitment because of how it changes the academic. “Some people humorously refer to PhD as permanent head damage. If you look at it the right way, indeed our whole way of thinking and our whole approach to life itself changes after PhD. We begin to question everything in life. The exhilaration of finding something new, developing something that did not exist before, is itself the greatest reward of doing research.”

In a career of numerous highlights and fascinating research topics, Dr. Muppala singles out a recent final year student project on the smartphone platform for particular mention. It involved building a maps-enabled application that allows non-Cantonese speakers to be able to use the smartphone to share their destinations with taxi drivers in Hong Kong. The app called "Where to?" designed for the Android platform is available on the Google Play store. Another group of his students volunteered their time to develop an Android app for Medecins Sans Frontiers in Hong Kong.

 

Open Access Research 

With such an interest in the power of communications technology and what it can do for people, Dr. Muppala sees the value of academic social networking with platforms such as Academia.edu and Researchgate.net. In addition, he uses Google Scholar to help stay abreast of the latest developments in research. “They [academic social networking platforms] provide us with the ability to connect to other researchers and exchange ideas and share our own research.”  He also supports open access publications and believes that research results should be freely available and shared with others. “This is the best way to advance research,” he says.

 

Hobbies and Interests

“I have a lot of interest in reading. I read mainly non-fiction focused on society and human psychology. My recent favorite author is Malcolm Gladwell. I also have a deep interest in Carnatic (South Indian classical) music, which is one of my other great passions. I also enjoy being physically active through exercise and Yoga, which I believe gives me the right sense of balance in life.”

 

Jogesh Muppala's academic website

 

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Michael Adorjan is a social scientist whose principle research interests include the fear of crime and trust in the police, representations and responses to youth crime, and comparative criminology and sociology. Formerly an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, Michael has recently taken up a position as assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary.

 

Research Inspiration

Since his dissertation on youth crime debates and responses in Canada, Michael’s research has focused on Hong Kong. He felt very lucky to be able to take up an adventurous and exciting position as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. 

One of his interests is in comparing responses to youth crime in Hong Kong with those he found in Canada, noting how Hong Kong’s unique colonial history has engendered very different influences on its responses.

He points out that China’s Cultural Revolution in 1967, which inspired rioting in Hong Kong as well, fused generic concerns for juvenile delinquency with governmental concerns for the political allegiances of its young population. 

“Responding to youth crime during this period was inextricable from the wider governmental project of building a civil society and instilling in youth a sense of citizen identification with Hong Kong.” Details of this can be found in Michael’s forthcoming book: Responding to Youth Crime in Hong Kong, co-authored with Wing Hong (Eric) Chui, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong. “The book also addresses contemporary trends including restorative justice, revision of the minimum age of criminal responsibility, youth activism and political dissent under Hong Kong’s limited democratic, post-colonial context.”

Michael’s research in Hong Kong also examined ex-prisoner desistance from crime (i.e. challenges in stopping them from reoffending and reintegrating into their community).  Currently, he is researching fear of crime and trust in police among the general public in Hong Kong.

“This research is particularly inspiring because Hong Kong offers what I characterize as differing points of social assemblage compared with ‘western’ neoliberal and democratic political economies.”  Michael is fascinated by the development of an international and comparative criminological imagination, which seeks to explain the meanings people attach to their perceptions and responses to deviance and crime.

Now that he is back in Canada - with the University of Calgary’s Department of Sociology, he is looking forward to further developing his comparative criminological imagination.

 

Overcoming Research Challenges

One of the challenges Michael encounters in criminological research is employing rigorous ethical procedures, especially in relation to qualitative research with ex-offenders, or when asking questions about victimization, crime and police. “Certainly, it’s a necessary step to have full ethical approval for the research as well as informed consent from all participants.  However, ethics need to be treated as a process when researching human beings, not just a form to sign off at the beginning of an interview.”

For his fear of crime research, which involves focus groups, it is important to secure both individual consent (as you would for a one-to-one interview) and the consent of all group members that anything discussed will remain confidential.

“Another challenge for me coming from Canada to Hong Kong and not speaking Cantonese, is conducting research involving Hong Kong residents.  I have relied on collaborations with colleagues who know Hong Kong well and speak fluent Cantonese, as well as research assistants skilled at translation work.”

Michael believes that international and comparative criminological research requires such collaborations and effective teamwork, otherwise too much gets lost in translation.

 

Drawing Attention to Social Problems

One of the contradictions of life in Hong Kong that Michael observed is that such a vibrant and wealthy ‘global’ city has looming problems with a widening wealth gap.  “What surprised me was finding many of the poorest citizens living in cages - literally, and paying rent that’s often higher than rent for government sponsored public housing!  I decided to write about this in public forums.” See http://www.crimetalk.org.uk/library/section-list/38-frontpage-articles/570-cage-homes-in-hong-kong.html. Another article published with the crimetalk website discusses the issue of young sex offenders in Hong Kong, and is critical of official responses. See http://www.crimetalk.org.uk/reviews/articles/762-lost-innocence-children-in-hong-kong.html

 

Motivation for Doctoral Study

Michael finished his Master’s degree in 2000 and didn’t begin his PhD studies until 2005. “It was important for me not to start into a process that could very well take half a decade or longer without a full commitment to an inspiring idea. I took a few years off for that reason, teaching, traveling and volunteering.”

His volunteer work as a youth probation officer led him to ask questions which eventually influenced his dissertation research.  “I would suggest never jump into grad school to ‘avoid reality’. My time in the ‘real world’ also reinforced how much of a privilege it is to be in academia, which helps get me through challenges when they arise.”

 

Key Advice

Michael believes that new researchers should seek as much support as possible early in their career: “Find a more senior colleague who may serve as a mentor.” Mentors, he says, “can help orient you to the various demands of being an academic, namely teaching, research and service. They may also serve to help guide you through the process of applying for research funding and help make sense of managing a research budget.” He ends with specific advice: “While nothing is not important in a robust research application, with all parts being equal (i.e. literature review, theoretical framework, budget) I would suggest focusing on ensuring the methodology is sound, justifiable and feasible. The methodology is the most likely section dismissed by reviewers who may or may not be experts in your area.”

 

Recommended Reading

May 2013. Adorjan, Michael, Wing Hong (Eric) Chui, “Colonial Responses to Youth Crime in Hong Kong: Penal Elitism, Legitimacy and Citizenship,” Theoretical Criminology (Invited Paper, Special Issue on Asian Criminology), 17(2): 159-77.

Responding to Youth Crime in Hong Kong. Michael Adorjan, Wing Hong Chui. Published by Routledge, 2014.

 

Michael Adorjan's academic website

 

Tagged in: Crime Sociology
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