Melissa Baese-Berk is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Oregon. She earned her BA in Linguistics from Boston University and her PhD in Linguistics with a specialization in Cognitive Science from Northwestern University. After completing her PhD, she served as a postdoctoral researcher at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language and Michigan State University before moving to Oregon. Her research primarily focuses on phonetics, laboratory phonology, and psycholinguistics, with special attention to issues in second language acquisition. She has published in a number of journals and currently serves as the Linguistics editor for WIREs Cognitive Science. She also serves as chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics (now known as the Committee on Gender Equity in Linguistics  COGEL). She enjoys teaching a range of courses at the UO, but especially loves teaching general education courses. Her two favorite things to talk about are how much she loves baseball and hockey and how much she loves her job.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA? 

I first joined the LSA when I was a senior in college. I volunteered at the Annual Meeting that year.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined? 

I attended the Summer Institute in Boston in 2005 and taught at the 2017 Institute in Kentucky. I’ve also been a member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics (now known as the Committee on Gender Equity in Linguistics). I now serve as the chair of that committee.

What are you currently researching/working on? 

I run the Speech Perception and Production Lab at the University of Oregon. As our name suggests, we examine questions in speech perception and production generally speaking. We always have a lot of projects going on in the lab and with our collaborators around the world, which means I’m always excited about my research. One current project we are working on is funded by the National Science Foundation. We are looking at how speech perception and production systems interact when a learner is acquiring a new language. We hope that this project will help us better understand how adults learn new languages and also how perception and production work together more broadly.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

It’s hard for me to say if the field has changed, or if my perspective on the field has changed instead! I think in general there’s a lot more room for a variety of approaches to similar questions (e.g., experimental and computational approaches), as well as a lot more interdisciplinary work. This is really exciting for me because I think we can really move the state of knowledge in interesting directions with approaches like these.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

When I was interviewing for graduate school, I felt really panicked because everyone else seemed to know exactly what they wanted to work on, and I was senior in college and didn’t know what I wanted to do, except that I really loved language. I expressed this concern to a faculty member at one visit, saying I didn’t know what, specifically, I wanted to do during my PhD because I was interested in everything. The faculty member told me that I should “just ask interesting questions.” That’s advice I’ve always carried with me. I’ve discovered that I could carve out a cohesive research program just by asking the questions that interest me (even if they don’t seem to obviously connect at first glance). My second piece of advice is to find good mentors – these don’t necessarily need to be people at your home institution. I’m a really firm believer that you should put together a mentoring team of more senior people who are on your side. Seek out folks whose work interests you or who have careers that seem like what you might be interested in.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field? 

I think the LSA provides a lot of great services to its members from journals to networking activities. I have two favorite services, though. The first is the Summer Institute which provides a great environment for students to really immerse themselves in linguistics (and for faculty to do the same!). The second is the committees and special interest groups which allow us the opportunity to really shape our field and academia. I’ve really enjoyed working with COSWL (now COGEL) and look forward to joining efforts with other committees and groups to increase our impact. I think creating a cohesive community for language researchers is an extraordinary service that enhances our research (and makes doing the work a lot more fun!)