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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

Some research stuff!


Ok, so I know it’s been ages since I last posted, something which is particularly embarrassing given the fact that my last post mentioned that I would be updating more regularly. And that hasn’t happened. Ugh. Part of the reason for this is because I’ve been settling back into my life in Birmingham after my Fulbright life in Pittsburgh came to an end, and to be totally honest, I’m still kind of finding my feet. It’s amazing how despite living in a city for years, even a short time away can make everything seem so new again. I mean, I spent nearly 10 years in Glasgow and now when I visit there, I hardly recognise the place, and the same happened a wee bit with coming back to Brum.

But after a few months back, things are slowly coming together. I’m back teaching, I’m back sitting in meetings, I’m back driving back and forth to work, and I’m gradually getting to grips with this UK life, but I think it’ll take another few months before I can honestly say things are back to the way they were before I left. What’s a bit worrisome is that I still find myself pining for Pittsburgh, about the places and people I met there, and while I had that a bit with Tucson, it’s more pronounced this time. I’m sure it will pass, but being melancholy about it certainly won’t help!

In other news, there’s been quite a lot happening in the world of sociolinguistics recently. For example, we had Lindsay Johns banging on about the power of the spoken word and how we should all be speaking Standard English. We had the banning of slang words in a high school in south London. There was the story about declining literacy rates in the UK and the slump in foreign language learning at university level. Oh, and there was also the story that ‘huh’ might be a linguistic universal. All of this, and more, continues to show how language is still very much front and centre on the national and international stage, although bizarrely, there’s not much in the way of input of actual linguists… That’s probably a story for another post, particularly as it relates to my own research on social media and the reporting of sociolinguistic research (I gave a talk about this at the recent Language in the Media conference in London).

Lastly, I’m happy to announce that I’ve had a flurry of things getting published recently, including an article on TH-fronting in Glasgow, which will be in English World-Wide and my own chapter on what ethnography can tell us about sociolinguistic variation over time, which will be in my edited volume Sociolinguistics in Scotland (and you can now buy it on Amazon!). Both of these pieces of work have been a wee while in the making, so as you can imagine, I’m pretty chuffed to have them done and dusted (especially the edited volume!). /blatentselfpromotion (!)

So yeah, I’ll try try try to start updating this more regularly, especially because it is quite good fun and it’s something a bit different from the usual academic-y kind of writing that I have to do. If only I could use some of my blog posts as REF outputs…

The Social Linguist

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Fulbright advice (Part II)


Ok, so this is the second part of my Fulbright advice (if you missed it, Part I is here).

6. Know your audience

If you want the panel/reviewers to want to give you the award, you need your application to be memorable. Vague and uninformed proposals stand a lower chance of being selected, so it’s particularly important to make sure that your project is clear and understandable to people outside your field. This means avoiding jargon, specialist terms, and technical vocabulary. This is one easy way of alienating the very people you want to impress.

7. Why the USA?

You also need to make a strong case for ‘why do you need to go to the States?’. Saying that you want to work on your tan in the Arizona desert is unlikely to garner support, so be clear on who you want to work with and why. What will the benefits be to you and your career if you go to the States as opposed to anywhere else? And what do you hope to bring back to the UK? The Fulbright is an exchange programme, so it’s important to flag up how the UK will benefit from this exchange.

8. Leading from the front

The Fulbright is also about developing the leaders of the future, people who will move fields forward, who will inspire and help people. As such, Fulbrighters  are generally excellent ambassadors, not only for their country, but for the Fulbright Commission as well. People who are interested in the world around them, who are curious about new cultures and excited about meeting new people have the kinds of qualities the Fulbright represents. Your application and the interview are both avenues where you can showcase these qualities to the reviewing panel, so don’t be backwards in going forwards on the kinds of things you’ve achieved. Additionally, even once your Fulbright year is done, it’s a lifetime commitment of representing the Fulbright ethos. Once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter!

9. The interpersonal stuff

The Fulbright is a commitment. It took me almost two years from start to finish, and for me, having support from friends and family was really important in getting through the process. But additionally, if you’re in a relationship, moving abroad for anywhere between three months to three years is a big ask. Unless you’re happy to spend some of that time apart (since if you travel on the visa waiver program, visits to the US can only be a maximum of 90 days), it’s important to make sure your significant other is on board. If you’re married, you have a better deal in that Fulbright will sponsor J2 visas for dependents (for your spouse and kids), but if you’re in a relationship and not married, things get a bit more complicated, since unmarried partners can’t be sponsored for J2 visas. In this situation, B2 visas for cohabiting partners are usually the solution, although you’re always advised to seek independent visa advice on this (don’t phone the US embassy though, they’re generally not able to advise on these kinds of things). Seriously, I could write a whole blog post just about visas…

10. Do it

The process is long, arduous, and difficult, and even if you get awarded it, there are another bunch of hoops that need to be cleared (visas, medical, more paperwork). Saying that though, it is probably one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done (or rather, am doing) and I wouldn’t change anything. I have met some incredibly interesting people, I get to experience a whole different culture, and I get to bring all of these experiences back with me and share them with friends, family, and colleagues in the UK. I’m a big believer in cultural exchange, and I think it’s one of the most powerful ways we can get to appreciate each others’ points of view and see where other people are coming from. The Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity, so go for it!

The Social Linguist

Three months already??

December 11, 2012 1 comment

I can barely believe it, but it’s already been three months since we landed in Pittsburgh, so nearly a quarter of my Fulbright year has passed (some Fulbrighters are even getting ready to fly back home now!). I’m not sure quite where the time is going, but it seems to be some sinister plan to motivate me to get some work done before I head back to Birmingham. The quicker time passes, the harder I (‘m supposed to) work. Or something like that.

In any event, I figured that it would be helpful to make a post on what to expect when applying for a Fulbright, some hints and tips that I found helpful, and to pass on some of my ‘wisdom’ (such as it is) to anyone embarking on this road (you can also check out Mutual Understanding for the collective wisdom of this year’s Fulbright cohort).

1. Plan ahead

When I decided to start applying for the Fulbright, the deadline was in May and I found out about it in March. Not a great amount of time to get going with it, especially in the middle of teaching. So learn from my mistake and plan well in advance of the deadline. A good application can take several months to decide where you want to go, read through all the documentation, write out a proposal, pull together all the documentation you need, get feedback (more on this later), chase up references and so on. To maximise your chances, you really need to be thinking long-term, as in six months before the deadline. It sounds like a long time (it is), but it’s not something you can rush in an afternoon or over a weekend.

2. Plan ahead

In fact, this point is so important, it’s worth repeating twice. Plan ahead. You’ll thank me for it.

3. Make sure you know what is required of the application

I almost got lost in the amount of paperwork required in the application, so make sure you spend time going through the instructions and make a list of all the documentation and paperwork that you need to submit. This will include references, project plan, teaching plan (if your award is a mix of teaching and research), bibliography, passport picture, etc etc etc. You don’t want your application thrown out because you’ve forgotten item 1b)…

4. Have a clear plan of what it is you want to do

I can only speak for the Scholars Award (so for post-doctoral awards), but I’m sure it also applies to the post-grad awards as well: know what it is you want to do during your time in the States. Your proposal needs to be clear, concise, interesting, inspiring, and all those other buzzwords that people get excited about. What is it you hope to achieve during your time there. A timetable of intended work is really helpful to give you an idea of how your time will be spent, even if it doesn’t make it into your application pack.

5. Get feedback

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this application. As such, your objectivity will fade and you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees. Having someone to proof-read your work, ask you questions about it and give you feedback on your application is really important. I know that part of my success in getting the Fulbright was down to having a friend read through and critique almost everything in my application before I submitted it. Things like spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, sentence fragments and so on are much easier for someone else spot, so take the time to find someone to help you out with this. Beer, dinner and other gifts are all appropriate ways of thanking your ‘reviewer’.

Tune in on Saturday for Part II, where I’ll talk about knowing your audience, ambassadorial skills and other important stuff!

The Social Linguist

(As ever, this is not an official Fulbright/US State Department blog)

Life in Pittsburgh and the random car ride…

October 16, 2012 2 comments

Although I’ve done a fair amount of travelling in the States, Pittsburgh was a town I’d never visited before. I’d been to Philadelphia and other part of the Eastern seaboard, but Pittsburgh had never really registered on my list of places to visit in America. I’m not sure why this is, but I think that it’s got a lot to do with the fact that it’s not a ‘tourist town’ in the way that NYC or Boston or Philadelphia are. Now, that’s not to say that there’s nothing to do in Pittsburgh, far from it, but rather, it doesn’t market itself as a city for tourists to visit. As such, it seems more representative of ‘real’ America, rather than the kind of package-deal America you might get at Disneyland or something. And for me, the former is far more interesting and attractive a proposition than the latter.

Anyway, suffice to say that I had absolutely no preconceptions about what life would be like over here, and what I’ve seen thus far has been pleasantly surprising. Perhaps one of the most surprising things to happen to me since, well, almost ever (?), was one of the first social interactions we had in Pittsburgh. We arrived in Pittsburgh on the 12th September and on the 13th, we decided to scout around some of the local neighbourhoods to get an idea of where things were, important orientating points and so on. So we knew where we were starting from and where we had gone, we headed to Giant Eagle to buy a street map. Unfortunately, Giant Eagle didn’t have any, but during the conversation with one of the members of staff, one of the women in front of us in the queue mentioned that we should try either the nearby gas station or Barnes and Noble. We thanked her and she left the store. As we came out of Giant Eagle, we saw her standing near the entrance on her phone, and as we walked past her, she stopped us and said that she was speakeing to her mechanic who was just around the corner to see if he had a map we could borrow. Again, we thanked her and said that we were going to get the bus to the Barnes and Noble at the Waterfront to buy one instead. What happened next literally made my jaw drop…

Her: ‘Barnes and Noble? The one down at the Waterfront? No worries. Jump in the car and I’ll take you guys there.’
Me: ‘What? No no no, don’t worry about it, we’ll just take the bus!’
Her: ‘It’s fine, I’m headed that way, so it’s not a big deal.’

So despite having never met us before, she was willing to give two perfect strangers a helping hand and make their day a little bit easier. We jumped in the car and she drove us to Barnes and Noble. Just to be extra awesome, as we were driving there, she phoned the store to see if they had any Pittsburgh street maps for sale (they did, thankfully!). After some nice chat about the city and what we were doing in Pittsburgh, we arrived at the shopping centre and she dropped us off right at the door. After us tripping over ourselves trying to thank her, she wished us a pleasant stay and drove off. Even four weeks later, I’m still kind of stunned that even in a big city, people can still be caring and helpful and kind to complete strangers and be willing to go out of their way, if only a little bit, to help someone out. This might be a minor story, but I really can’t imagine that happening in London or Birmingham or NYC or Chicago. Maybe out in the sticks where things are a little bit harder to get to, but in a city, you kind of feel as though you’re left to your own devices for the most part.

So to the woman who drove us to Barnes and Noble, thank you for the lift! You made our day.

– The Social Linguist

I’m alive!!!


Ok, so it’s been nearly two months since my last blog post, mainly because I was busy flim-flaming my way from Birmingham to Cambridge to Berlin to Glasgow to Pittsburgh (via Iceland and New York). Suffice to say, it’s been a *hectic* two months, but I am now settled in my new house in Greenfields, Pittsburgh, PA. Hurrah!

But besides a bunch of international travel, I’ve managed to catch up with friends and family, see some interesting sights, learned loads at the Sociolinguistics Symposium in Berlin, watched a rugby game (we lost…), celebrated my 30th birthday (in Pittsburgh!), ate loads of nice food, scoped out some great bars, had some awesome beers (Berlin and Pittsburgh are hallowed venues for micro and craft brewing), finished up a funding application, finished up an edited book proposal (with only minor bumps along the way, mainly technological), *nearly* finished up a journal article (damn stats are still killing me), sorted a US bank account, sorted a US cell phone, sorted US internet access (hence the ability to now update the blog!), sorted a house (see above), sorted all my immigration and visa paperwork (so I’m not gonna get kicked out of the country!), found some nice parks, went for a few runs (which resulted in me not being able to run for a week due to a foot injury…), found the local Giant Eagle, found a local gluten-free bakery for Rebecca (so she can have bagels for the first time ever!), met some lovely new friends and colleagues, had an invite to speak at the Scottish Leadership Conference, and just generally had a really great couple of weeks.

Anyway, with secure internet up and running now, blog updates should be coming along a lot more regularly, so keep tuned for stories about my Fulbright year, sociolinguistic research, random musings, academic trials and tribulations, and all the rest of it.

– The Social Linguist

N.B This is not an official US Department of State blog. Views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Programme or the US Department of State.

Robert Lawson: Academic, lecturer, Fulbright scholar


After 10 long long months of waiting to get the go-ahead to publicise this, I’m pleased to be able to share that I am now the Fulbright Scottish Studies Scholar! This announcement is the culmination of nearly 18 months of blood, sweat and tears, with application deadlines, interview stress, visa worries, and a whole host of other unmentionables. Yesterday, I returned from a three-day orientation in London where our status as Fulbrighters was confirmed and we were told that we could share the news with all and sundry. I’ve wanted to blog about this for ages but because there were so many steps where we could fall down and the award be retracted (for various reasons, including not being approved by the Washington D.C. Fulbright Board, not getting approved for a visa, etc etc), we were told to hold fast and announce it once all the paperwork was signed off.

So, from September 2012, I’ll be heading off to the exotic climes of the University of Pittsburgh, PA where I’ll be working on turning the thesis into a book (or as I’m calling it, thesis 2.0), and the edited volume on sociolinguistics in Scotland. And brilliantly, UoP is where Scott Kiesling (my external examiner for my thesis) works, so I’ll be able to pick his brains about issues to do with language and masculinity, which is very exciting.

I have plans to write up a bunch of stuff over the next year or so, including application and interview process, what to expect at orientation, visa issues, culture shock, the book writing process, and the Fulbright experience more generally, some of which I wasn’t able to find out about elsewhere on the internet. I’ll try and keep a focus on the ‘sociolinguistics’ side of the blog, but there will also be a fair smattering of other stuff going in as well.

While what I’m about to say is normally reserved for the acknowledgements page, I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly thank a few people who helped out with putting together the application form, preparing for the interview and generally keeping me on the straight and narrow as I went through the Fulbright process.

First off, Professor Fiona Robertson helped out with reading a draft of my application and offered some important guidance on writing for a non-specialised audience. This made me refine my thoughts and work on how to communicate my ideas to people outside sociolinguistics, and her guidance definitely helped me get past the first round.

Second, Mel Moore was key in helping me put together the teaching side of my application. He also did a bunch of mock interviews with me (and was very professional in doing so!), read my application more times than he probably would have liked to, and generally cajoled, encouraged and motivated me to keep on going. The application was definitely stronger for his input and I am immeasurably grateful for both his help and his friendship.

I don’t think that words will suffice to thank the last person on this list, my girlfriend, Rebecca Hering. From persuading me to apply in the first place, to being by my side every step of the way, to patiently listening to me go through (for the umpteenth time) my mock interview answers, to keeping me smiling when I thought that my chances were hopeless, she has been an inspiration and a constant source of love and support. This award is as much hers as it is mine.

– The Social Linguist