Mentoring undergraduate research gives Professor Lisa Pearl the opportunity to explore new ideas; by combining her studentsí ideas with her own areas of expertise, she has been able to explore areas that she wouldnít have been able to discover otherwise. Professor Pearl looks to mentor reliable students with strong analytical thinking skills who will have the patience required to wade through the research process. She emphasizes the importance for students to be able to communicate the importance of their research to others and works extensively with them on their presentation techniques. UROP is proud to recognize Professor Lisa Pearl for her commitment to providing excellent guidance to the undergraduate researchers she mentors.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

Iíve been very fortunate to be a target of opportunity for many bright, motivated, and interested students. Since Iíve been at UCI, students who have taken my classes in language science or otherwise happened across my research interests (usually via my lab website) have contacted me and expressed interest in conducting research with me. Typically, weíll start with a conversation about the background the student has and where our research interests converge. Given the variety of backgrounds and interests students come to me with, Iíve helped students conduct projects in a number of areas in language science relating to linguistic development and how people use language to communicate different kinds of subtle information like identity, mood, and intention. Students who work with me often use computational and corpus-based methods to conduct their research.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

Some of the most important things are simply commitment and sufficient time to conduct research. Students who donít yet have the necessary background can usually pick it up via taking classes in the relevant areas or as part of an independent study if they have enough time to do so. But it really requires a commitment to this area of research to have that necessary patience. Itís good practice for the process of research itself, which often goes more slowly than we think it will.

The core skills for all my undergraduate researchers are analytical thinking and reliability. All aspects of research require both of these: whether youíre coming up with the conceptual framework, munging through data, or devising an appropriate analysis, you need to think about how to do it right (whatever it is) and then actually do it right. It sounds basic, but it often comes back to having that crucial trait of patience.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

Undergraduate students typically meet with me once a week individually. We talk about a number of things, including what research has been accomplished since our last meeting, what questions have come up, and how to communicate the research to other people. That last part is so important for successful research, so I really try to make sure all my students understand how what theyíre working on fits into the bigger picture of language development and language use. Students practice telling other students about their projects at lab meetings, and get to see (and give) research presentations at all stages of progress, from conceptual outline to a polished conference presentation.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

There are really quite a number of different skills that my students have refined while working on research projects, since research often requires a variety of mental tools. These include analytical thinking, quantitative reasoning, computer programming, technical linguistic expertise, presentation techniques, and scientific writing.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

One of the most fun things about guiding undergraduate research is that I get a chance to explore ideas I wouldnít otherwise be able to on my own. It really benefits me to hear new ideas coming from fresh, enthusiastic minds and combine what I already know with what the student is interested in to figure out what we want to investigate together.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

A couple of useful tips, relating to some of the things I mentioned above: (1) Have the patience to do it (whatever it is) right. No, really. Take a breath. Look at it again. Make sure itís exactly how you want it. Itíll save you time in the long run and youíll feel really confident in your results. (2) Learn how to communicate coherently and concisely in a way that also expresses your own passion for the project. Being able to tell others about what youíre going to do (or are doing or have done) is just as important as actually doing the thing itself. You want everyone else to understand why what youíre doing is exciting (and interesting! and important!) so that your research has the impact you want.

Research Interests: Native language development, computational models of cognition, linguistic cues to information, natural language processing

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Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '14 Emiliana Borrelli
Nov. '14 Joel Veenstra
Oct. '14 Jonathan Alexander
Sep. '14 Leslie M. Thompson
Aug. '14 Jonathan R.T. Lakey
Jul. '14 Diego Rosso
Jun. '14 James Kyung-Jin Lee
May. '14 Lisa Pearl
Apr. '14 Jayne Elizabeth Lewis
Mar. '14 Donald Jay Patterson
Feb. '14 Dritan Agalliu
Jan. '14 Stephanie Reich