Opinion | In Academia We Trust – Young Researchers in Action

Opinion | In Academia We Trust - Young Researchers in Action Opinion | In Academia We Trust – Young Researchers in Action

Think about a typical M.A. student in Turkey. They can be roughly divided into two types: one wants to pass his exams and complete a fairly well-written thesis, while the other struggles to maintain a high GPA and finish a thesis that he had already planned out while he was an undergraduate student. The second type of student is the one who has the best chance of becoming a successful applicant to a PhD program. His early commitment to a topic allows him to approach his work in a deliberate and conscientious manner best likely to produce a methodologically sound thesis that holds up to the rigors of scientific research. As might be anticipated, the purpose of this piece is to examine the second type of student, and simplistically to speculate about what is cooking in Turkish academia, especially among linguists.

Student autonomy in learning is also worth mentioning here. Accessing information is really easy nowadays; you can try to look for answers to your questions on a search engine instead of relying on experts and libraries. This even leads to students ignoring lecture content in favour of Internet sources. “The teacher speaks and students listen.” is out, and “Student discusses his Internet reading with the teacher.” is in. Thanks to a high-speed Internet connection, the students have started not to believe that they need in-class education. Some prefer distance learning; even some graduate programs are available online. Having all these facilities, those looking to cut corners by limiting themselves to a cursory overview of a topic on the Internet without making the effort to delve in-depth into the subject matter will not succeed as students. On the contrary, you may even witness a student asking for the time when he could simply check it on his wristwatch, lacking even basic research skills, and that is not aware of the “In any case, ask Uncle Google.” concept. However, I will simply skip the negative side of this issue and focus on the positive aspects, which is what is motivating me to write this piece.

And yet independent initiative in academics can often yield surprisingly positive results. Many students are able to leverage the social connectivity of the Internet to collaborate with researchers from all over the world. In this way, a friend of mine studying linguistics has been able to enrich his academic articles by drawing on the expertise of valuable contacts active in the fields of psychology, sociology, and cognitive science. These Internet-based interactions have even made it possible for some motivated M.A. students to share their research at overseas academic conferences without any university affiliation; they simply presented their papers as “independent scholars”.

While technology goes a long way in helping these young scientists to take advantage of new learning options, they wouldn’t be able to benefit from these without a strong sense of initiative. These students’ formidable organizing skills have enabled them to participate and take on leadership roles in various projects. In taking the lead in managing extracurricular events such as Couch Surfing get-togethers, which effectively function as cultural nights and speaking clubs, the students have demonstrated incredible maturity in handling the tasks of oversight and planning. Their knack for organizing events is all the more impressive considering their youth. It is not uncommon to see 19-year-olds coordinate Youth in Action projects. They have not only taken the initiative to develop projects but have even taken care of the financial side of the equation by applying for grants. I have met B.A. students who applied for funding from the TUBITAK foundation. Another B.A. student received funding from the Turkish National Agency to attend a week long youth work seminar in Portugal. Considering all, it would not be a surprise to see students organizing a conference thanks to the facilities such as TEDx program.

Steeped in the culture of social networks and email, these young men and women know that academic institutions in far-flung corners of the world are just a click away. Going abroad is not just a futile dream for these students; their acquisition of the English language can effectively remove the communication barriers that would keep them from reaching out to global opportunities. Aware of the potential that English holds out for them, the students are eager to practice their language skills in the speaking club held in the American Room, a specially-designed American-themed classroom funded by the YES Alumni Small Grants Program at Hasan Kalyoncu University. So enthusiastic and committed are they to acquiring fluency that they often cajole their English instructors into joining them for discussion at the speaking club. It is true that the thought of studying abroad may seem daunting for some of these students. They may even say, “I couldn’t even fathom living in a foreign country”. And yet many have decided to brave the unknown and take that risk. For instance, one friend has chosen to pursue his doctorate in Taiwan and another completed his in the USA and obtained a research assistantship position shortly thereafter.

The bottom line is that ivory tower linguists are not the only ones contributing to the field. There is a new face of academia in modern Turkey. While academic elitism definitely has something to learn from mainstream researchers, in their quasi-scientific studies, young researchers have much to learn from them. As Friedrich Nietzsche says, “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” I might sound a bit naive, but there you go; now you do not have to be a rocket scientist to do what these people have succeeded in doing.

Having mentioned the linguists here, we remember Dogan Aksan with respect.

Huseyin Uysal is a researcher specialising in child language development and language processing. He is an English language lecturer at the School of Foreign Languages at Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep – [email protected]

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