The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. If you would like to recommend an LSA member (including yourself) for a future Member Spotlight, please contact Brice Russ, LSA Director of Communications.

Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

Lauren Collister, University of Pittsburgh

Lauren Collister headshot

Lauren Collister is a sociolinguist and advocate for openness in scholarship. She received her Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013. Her research focuses on multimodal communication and technology in online environments, and her dissertation work was an ethnography of a World of Warcraft guild.

She currently works for the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh in the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing, where she works with Open Access journals and their editors as part of the library’s publishing program and does outreach to students and faculty to help increase access and exposure to their research work.

Q: When did you first join the LSA, and how have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

I joined the LSA initially when I was a student in 2011, right before the conference in Pittsburgh. I was a Local Host volunteer at that conference and took many of the photos and helped organize the restaurants list and helped direct conference attendees around the city.  I went to the conference in 2012 in Portland specifically for the Sociolinguistic Archive Preparation workshop. I was not a member of the LSA for a couple of years because I was focusing in other areas aside from linguistics for my work.

However, I have rejoined in 2015 to help participate in the Linguistics Beyond Academia subgroup and the Scholarly Communication group, since these are closely aligned with my work, and to participate in the advocacy initiatives by the LSA.

Q: What brought you to your current position at UPitt?

I was a graduate student at Pitt in the Sociolinguistics Ph.D. program. During my time as a student, I began to learn about the practicalities and issues surrounding publication and sharing of research (a.k.a. scholarly communication). Pitt, specifically the library, is particularly active in the world of Open Access and held many events while I was a student to promote the use of various tools and services for disseminating scholarly work. I was very interested in these topics and devoted a lot of energy to learning about them and the issues of publication and access to research.

When graduation neared and I began to search for a job, I had an open mind about non-faculty jobs; I serendipitously found a posting from the department that had sponsored all of those activities that so interested me. I took the plunge and applied, and here I am today. 

Q: How do you use your linguistic background in your work?

There are many communication needs in library work surrounding how to translate the issues that we deal with to people in many different fields. It is critical to frame the issues in a way that makes them relevant to scholars of all types, and part of my job is doing that and assisting my colleagues with this framing work and making connections to the faculty. I also have a research background in ethnography and linguistic anthropology, and I have been involved with an ethnographic study of non-tenure track faculty at Pitt to understand how the library can better serve this part of our population. We also have a lot of discussions in the office about publishing, copywriting, and editing and the role of formal written language!

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

Making ourselves even more relevant to the public interest. There is a lot of “popular linguistics” out there being done by people who are not linguists. The same is true in educational contexts and in government. I think this impacts the perceptions of the field and, perhaps, the decrease in funding for social sciences that we’re seeing from the government and other research funders.

Many linguists are involved in the public conversation and have reputations as public scholars and the LSA has been doing more work in this area of late; one of the challenges facing the field is to get more linguists of all types involved in those conversations and bring linguistics further forward in the minds of the public.

Q: How can linguists increase exposure to their work?

One of the easiest ways to make your research more accessible and more widely-read is to put versions of your articles in an open access archive or repository! If you’re not already doing this, please consider doing so – a few minutes of your time can help someone who doesn’t have access to the journal, whether it’s a scholar in a less-fortunate setting, a journalist looking for sources for an article, or a citizen-scholar looking for resources to pursue their interests.  Scholars benefit from increased exposure, more citations, and greater preservation.

Read more here and please feel free to get in touch with me if I can help!

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

Keep your options open and always look for new ways to apply your skills! Skills in linguistics can be useful in a number of fields; I never thought that a frame analysis would be useful when I was a student, but now I apply my understanding of frames all the time. Collect examples of ways that your projects and skills may be applicable to many different types of data or projects.

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

The LSA helps connect linguists to the issues and concerns of our broader society and serves as a central point of information for the field. As a student, I felt a bit disconnected from the broader world and concerns in government, education, and other issues; since the LSA has become more involved in these areas, it provides an excellent conduit for the interests of its members in these fields.