What’s in a Master’s?

Hello! Seeing as it’s the reason I’m here in York, I thought I’d do this blog on my degree itself. I’m studying for an MSc in Forensic Speech Science as part of the Department of Language and Linguistic Science. I promise I won’t over-burden you with every module, but I want to give you a flavour of what constitutes postgraduate study.

Linguistics? What’s that?!

If I had a sound for every time someone asks me what linguists are, I’d probably be able to form a pretty complex language. Linguistics, simply put, is the science of language. Phonetics is the science of sound specifically. Forensic Speech Science (FSS) is the application of phonetics to legal contexts – so whether we can identify people by their speech alone. Still with me? Great.

What’s in a Masters

This academic year, I have eight taught modules and a dissertation project spread over three ‘teaching’ terms plus the summer. The first term was difficult and heavy. We had five modules: three were advanced topics in various areas and two were in quantitative methods and research training. Looking back, my tutors were bringing us up to speed and training us to be independent academics. We critiqued our readings, learned to present conclusions and honed our methods more than ever before. I emerged after Christmas tired but feeling like my brain had built some serious muscle.

The second term has just finished. Increasingly, we’ve been allowed independence to choose our own topics and justify our own methods. With only two modules, I was juggling fewer topics and allowed to get deeper. Next term I have one module focused on FSS and my dissertation. All that training is hopefully going to pay off with some fascinating projects.

Independence, not isolation

The thing I’m most excited about is my dissertation. I’m looking at two words in speech; yeah and like; and whether people produce them consistently or change them in different contexts. I’m crossing over two distinct linguistic fields: phonetics (using acoustic measures) and conversation analysis (CA). This hasn’t been without its difficulties as it’s a new research direction and generally these fields don’t talk, if you pardon the pun. However, I’ve been encouraged by a supportive department.

Academic presentations can be fun, I promise.

Every month we have a research group with all the FSS academics in the department and some practitioners who do casework analysing voices for the police and courts. It’s a roomful of people who are leading the way in research and I hold them in high esteem. I inquired whether we could do a meeting on my research’s crossover of fields and was asked if I’d like to lead the session. It was rather daunting. Truth be told, it forced me to step up my preparation a lot. Presenting also helped me to appreciate that research can be wonderfully collaborative, and I left the discussion with pages of notes and references. It was a real privilege and helped me to see just how much I can do with this dissertation.

Course mates

A coursemate and I revising outside.

I had a smattering of decent friendships in my undergraduate course but with a year group of 120, it was hard to make connections; especially as we were dispersed across different modules. Now, there are only nine people doing my degree, and about thirty doing a masters in my department. I’m not saying I’m automatically best buddies with everybody, but there’s a better social culture. Particularly having a lab to work in, we bond over in-jokes about our studies. It’s made my campus work feel like a community not just a daily grind. We encourage each other and find some solidarity when deadlines loom and we get advice from each other about research topics. I promise I’m not going to get all smushy, but it’s been a fun working environment.

All in all, I’ve found that there’s a lot of scope and freedom to pursue the topics you want to do. With researching lecturers there to encourage and prod, I feel trained in my field. With a good group of peers also learning with me, it makes the journey much more enjoyable.

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Ben

Hi, I'm Ben! I'm a Forensic Speech Science MSc student here at York in the Language and Linguistic Science Department. I'm fascinated by language and love analysing voices. I graduated here in July and stayed on to further geek about accents and speaker comparison.